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Baraboo Waterfowl Museum Celebrates Its First Year

By ANNIE GETSINGER | Baraboo News Republic

BARABOO, Wis. (AP) — Nichol and Craig Swenson, who opened Flyways Waterfowl Museum near the north shore entrance to Devil's Lake State Park last summer, are living out their mission of conservation.

The museum, which sits back from the road along Highway 123 in Baraboo, recently celebrated its first anniversary, the Baraboo News Republic reported.

Special to the museum this year was an exhibit on the tundra swan, featuring a taxidermy display of one of the majestic creatures and a number of educational videos about the swans, which winter on the east and west coasts of the U.S. and travel to summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.

“We will see these in Wisconsin,” said Mary Klecker, the museum's education and outreach coordinator, adding that the large, white birds can sometimes be seen along the Mississippi River in the spring and fall.

Nichol Swenson said the video of the tundra swans being shown in the museum's Duck Blind Theater hints at the scope of the massive migrations.

“I found it moving, myself,” she said.

The museum recently took on Klecker, a former agriculture and natural resources teacher from Madison. She has been working with area educational institutions, community service clubs and organizations to spread the word about Flyways and secure funding for the museum.

The museum features mounts of more than 60 species of waterfowl, all collected by Craig Swenson, an avid sportsman. Nichol Swenson, who has a master's degree in conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, created its interactive educational displays.

“I try to keep it interesting,” she said. “I really want the kids to come and be interested.”

Also available to view are large collections of calls and decoys.

The museum plans to have a special featured exhibit each year, Nichol Swenson said, adding that next year's exhibit will likely be ducks of the South and Southwest.

Flyways, which recently achieved nonprofit status, has received donations from area Kiwanis Clubs, the Dane County Conservation League and other sources.

The museum hosted a conference for agriculture teachers this summer and has used some of its recent grant funding to offer a 100 percent discount for students and educators to visit.

“In that respect, things have definitely picked up,” said Nichol Swenson.

“We've had quite a few walk-ins and people that have read articles,” said Craig Swenson.

The three are still hoping that more area residents will stop by and take an interest in the museum. They said they're also hoping to work with the International Crane Foundation, Aldo Leopold Foundation and other area attractions that teach and promote conservation to develop an educational, conservation-themed day trip that features the museum as a stop.

This month, the museum also is featuring a special exhibit of the original artwork submitted for the Federal Duck Stamp and Federal Junior Duck Stamp programs. The traveling art exhibit will be on display through Sept. 11, Nichol Swenson said. The pieces can be viewed in the museum's gift shop free of charge.

The stamp program, which began in 1934 featuring the work of political cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, generates money for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which oversees the use of the funds for wetland habitat preservation and conservation. About 98 cents of every dollar spent on the postage stamps goes to purchase wildlife habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System, according to the program.

Since 1934, more than 6 million federal duck stamps have been purchased in Wisconsin, according to the program.

Flyways also recently started a creative endeavor with the Baraboo High School Arts Department. The Flushing Out Our Next Owen Gromme project, named for the famous wildlife artist, is supported in part by a grant through the Sauk County University of Wisconsin-Extension Arts and Culture Committee's Good Idea! Grant program, funded through the Wisconsin Arts Board with state and federal dollars.

The Swensons and Klecker said the museum teaches visitors about more than just waterfowl.

“Everything is connected,” said Klecker. “When you come to learn there is a connection between all things, you come to appreciate everything, as unique as it can be.”

In addition to their museum, the Swensons demonstrate their commitment to the environment in the way that they live. The property on which they make their home sits along the Baraboo River and is part of the federal Wetlands Reserve Program, designed to help landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The program was consolidated this year into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

Craig Swenson purchased the land in 1999, just after it had been entered into the program and before many of the necessary conservation work had begun.

“I'd always noticed that property as a wetland,” he said, adding that he'd seen the former farmland flood.

Swenson, his brother and a neighbor have more than 70 adjacent acres in the program as well as some additional land in restored prairie.

“Wild prairies in Wisconsin are things of the past,” Craig Swenson said.

A dam on the property allows the landowners to let the water out slowly into the Baraboo River after rainfall and runoff fill the marsh.

“It helps with flood control, being a wetland, and clean water; it's a major filter for water sediments,” he said.

A fencing system keeps carp out of the wetland.

“It's dramatically changed from being a cornfield,” Swenson said of the land, home to great blue herons, bald eagles, frogs, otters, birds, beavers and waterfowl of all sorts.

“It's quite an array of animals and wildlife that actually uses the property,” he said.

“I like to watch the great blue herons,” said Nichol Swenson.

With the introduction of the carp control measures, natural vegetation is returning to the wetland, and the marsh is frequently visited by large groups of ducks on their migration. The Swensons' property also has 13 wood duck houses and seven mallard duck houses.

A hunter, Swenson said he's committed to conservation and to supporting the populations, adding that the land contributes 15 to 20 times more ducks than any hunters take from the property.

“We support the conservation as much as use it,” he said.

Nichol Swenson, a New Jersey native who doesn't hunt, said the couple finds joy in the fact that they are protecting the ecosystem and contributing to a larger conservation effort.

“It's what we love,” she said.

Flyways Waterfowl Museum will be open six days a week until Labor Day, when it shifts to a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule before closing for the winter Dec. 15.

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Information from: Baraboo News Republic, www.wiscnews.com/bnr

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