Carpenter Nature Center’s $4 million expansion opens soon near Hudson. Nesting birds are already at home there. – Twin Cities


It seems the staff and volunteers aren’t the only ones eager to use the beautiful new Carpenter Nature Center on its 300-acre campus south of Hudson, Wis.

A pair of belted kingfishers this spring moved into a 15-foot pile of topsoil that construction crews had been saving for the center’s gardens. The short-legged birds use their front claws and strong beaks to excavate nesting burrows in earthen banks, usually avoiding those with vegetation.

The pile of dirt that had been sitting for a year near the new parking lot – less than a half-mile from the St. Croix River – fit the bill.

“The birds were scolding and making all sorts of noises in May, but towards the end of June, I didn’t see or hear them,” said Jennifer Vieth, the executive director of the nature center, which also has a 425-acre campus near Afton.

Still, Vieth, an avid birder, didn’t want to give the center’s excavation contractor the go-ahead to move the topsoil “until we knew for certain the birds had vacated the premises.”

Vieth invited an ornithologist friend to drop by with his borescope in early June. Using a camera on the end of the device’s long arm, they were able to confirm that “Mrs. Kingfisher” still was on the site, she said.

“She’s adorable,” said Vieth, during a recent tour of the site. “She’s got these spikey blue feathers. Can you hear that chattering? That’s Mr. Kingfisher. He doesn’t like us getting too close.”

A belted kingfisher has made its home in a pile of topsoil at the new $4 million Carpenter Nature Center in Hudson, Wis. (Courtesy of Brian Collins)

No one on the construction crew blinked an eye when they got the news that their plans were changing to accommodate the birds, said Keegan McIntosh, the general contractor’s head supervisor.

“It’s a nature center, so the nature comes first,” said McIntosh, who works for Stotko Speedling Construction in Hastings. “If they say, ‘Don’t touch it, we want to let the birds nest,’ that’s what we’re going to do. … Fortunately, we found out the day that we were going to move it. A day later, it wouldn’t have been good for the kingfisher family.”

DECADES OF PLANNING

The new $4 million interpretive center, which opens to the public July 9, is the result of decades of planning.

Laurie and Al Hein once owned part of the site. In the 1980s, the Heins were looking for an organization to be stewards of their land when a neighbor, Dan Greenwald, suggested they reach out to the Carpenter Nature Center in Minnesota. The couple’s 98-acre donation in 1989 marked the beginning of Carpenter’s Wisconsin campus, just north of the Troy Burne Golf Club.

More parcels were purchased as they came up for sale, and the Wisconsin campus now boasts 300 acres permanently preserved for public use. Like the Minnesota campus, the center is free and open to the public.

The new $4 million visitor's center at the Carpenter Nature Center's 300-acre campus south of Hudson, Wis.  on Monday, June 20, 2022. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)
The new $4 million visitor’s center at the Carpenter Nature Center’s 300-acre campus south of Hudson, Wis. on Monday, June 20, 2022. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Carpenter seeks to protect habitat and teach people about nature, and the new interpretive center will do just that, Vieth said. It features accessible classrooms, restrooms, meeting space, nature exhibits and outdoor teaching spaces.

Carpenter staff gathered suggestions through more than 300 surveys given to people at events like the Cove Art Festival and the River Falls Bird Festival. “We even stationed people outside the County Market grocery store (in Hudson) to see what people wanted,” she said. “You build what people want to use. It turned out perfect.”

The surveys showed that people wanted a room that multigenerational families could use, she said. “You can come out and enjoy nature and watch the birds at the bird feeders even if you can’t get out on the trails,” she said. “You can relax here and have a cup of coffee. It’s accessible to everyone.”

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