May 17, 2022

Conservation hits $1M milestone for education center project

Successful fundraiser at Thunderdome pushes county closer to ultimate goal

A successful fundraiser last weekend coupled with an upcoming anonymous donation have helped Jasper County Conservation reach the $1 million fundraising milestone for its planned environmental education center.

While $1 million may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to conservation’s final $2.9 million goal, it does allow staff to begin seeking state and federal money for the center’s construction.

“With a lot of government money, whoever is applying needs to show that they’ve raised some funding on their own. Hitting the $1 million mark was that for us and now we can kick everything into high gear,” conservation office manager and educator Jade Read said.

The last push conservation needed to get over that mark was its third annual Caring for Conservation Auction, which took place the evening of April 2 at The Thunderdome in Newton.

“We saw a great turnout at the auction,” Read said. “The money we raised was right on par with what we’ve gotten in the previous two years: a little over $20,000.”

Some of the items up for grabs at the auction included themed prize baskets and various event tickets, a pheasant hunting trip, plane tours around the county and stays at conservation’s Uhlenhopp Arboretum cabin.

“We really had some crazy bidding go on during our live auction portion. I think the highest cost item was a handmade charcuterie board that went for over $4,000,” Read said.

With the money from the auction and a pending donation from a currently unknown donor, the plans for the education center can now enter their next phase, most notably the possibility of breaking ground on the site in the near future.

“Right now our office is working with an architect to update some plans and split the construction into different phases,” Read said. “Once those are complete we could see construction begin soon after.”

The planned location for the center, located near the county sheriff’s office, is a section of land already owned by the county and is currently open to the public.

“The center isn’t there yet but it’s still a beautiful place. There are some paths and a small pond that are all great to visit during the summer months,” Read said.

When the center is built, staff are hopeful they will be able to reach and educate more than 20,000 people annually and provide outdoor learning experiences to students of all ages. The center will be a significant tourist attraction and will also serve as a welcome center for Jasper County, as well as a hub for promoting the use of all conservation areas and parks.

“We have a great relationship with so many people in the community. People know that we already do so many programs with kids at the schools and around the county, so it isn’t surprising that we’ve received so much support for this new center,” Read said.

Contact Abby Knipfel at 641-792-3121 ext. 6531 or aknipfel@shawmedia.com

Abby Knipfel

Abby "Adler" Knipfel

Journalist at Newton Daily News. Currently covering Jasper County and writing passionate opinion pieces. They/Them