Environmental education station to open
By Angie Landsverk
The new Waupaca Eco-Park will be celebrated and dedicated on Saturday, Sept. 10.
The public is invited to the event, which will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at 1534 Webster Way, near the East Gate Subdivision.
The park is on city-owned property and includes an open air shelter, environmental education center, amphitheater and natural children’s playground, all built from locally sourced, natural materials.
The celebration will include the city of Waupaca, CAP Services and project partners.
All-ages environmental science activities and park tours will begin at 10:30 a.m.
“This project involves lots of different skill work,” said Clif Morton, CAP Services’ Fresh Start Program coordinator.
The Fresh Start Program takes disadvantaged, at-risk, drop-out youth and young people who have been in trouble with the law and teaches them construction, life and employability skills while also helping them complete educational goals.
“We will have tents set up with three learning stations, so kids can do hands-on environmental science projects and hopefully play on the playground,” Morton said. “Fresh Start participants will do the tours and explain their involvement in the project.”
Concessions will be available, beginning at 11 a.m.
The dedication ceremony will take place at noon.
Project partners and supporters, including Waupaca Foundry, Faulks Bros. Construction, Torborgs Lumber, North Wind Renewable Energy, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, CellCom and the Waupaca Area Community Foundation, will be a part of it.
In addition, a special dedication of the 250-seat natural amphitheater will be made in the name of Connie Abert, a lifetime environmental educator with Waupaca County’s UW-Extension office who helped with the planning of Eco-Park.
“Connie Abert went with me to every school in the county. She did a lot of research. She had a whole career dedicated to education,” he said. “We wanted to recognize her. It will be known as the Connie Abert Amphitheater.”
Abert was seriously injured in a car accident in May 2015 and now lives in St. Louis.
The Waupaca Common Council agreed with the idea of naming the amphitheater in Abert’s honor.
Aaron Jenson, the city’s parks and recreation director, brought the request before the council last month for its approval.
“It was fun to work with her,” Jenson said. “She was the one who got this off the ground.”
Morton said, “We’re going to record the event and make sure she can see it from her home in St. Louis. What an inspiration she’s been.”
Fresh Start participants are building the stone walls and benches.
“We will have a top terrace that is wheelchair accessible,” he said. “We hope by dedication to have three of the five terraces done.”
Morton said the amphitheater is designed for multiple purposes.
“School groups can come and use it for education. All schools are invited to help environmental education projects, which will be on display here. Weddings could be here,” he said.
As Rick Michiels lifted rocks he said, “It’s been a fun project.”
Several years ago, Fresh Start crews began building homes in the nearby East Gate Subdivision.
“They are starting their eighth house,” Morton said.
Abert and Morton met with teachers and administrators throughout the county to learn if they were interested in making the proposed eco-park a place for educational field trips.
Fresh Start crews began working on the project last year.
Morton said the children’s natural play area is designed to stimulate the imagination of children.
Gina Pecha said it is fun working on that area of the park, and Callista Steinke said she is learning many new skills.
“It’s designed to not look specifically like anything, so it can be different things,” Morton said.
Leftover wood blocks will be available in the pebble-based play area, which will also include benches and a covered sand box.
The 24-by-32-foot environmental education center has a 20-by-32 deck on the front and a 14-by-32 deck on the side.
“The education center is built to commercial specifications. That is an entirely new skill set for the Fresh Start participants. The idea was to get them involved in things they don’t normally do,” he said.
When they build houses in the subdivision, the foundation is poured.
“Here, they built it with cement blocks,” Morton said.
One side of the education center has a stone wall. There will be another one inside the building.
It is the work of Sabrina Hale.
“I knew she’d be a good match for this project,” Morton said.
Hale said, “I tried to match different colors together, watching the sizes. It’s pretty fun to make it looks as pretty as it can. I’ve never done this before. Working on it, I’m thinking about opening a landscaping company.”
Morton said the eco-park project was made possible through the support of the city, local businesses and individual donations.
“Over 40 Fresh Start participants have been involved in this project. That’s a lot of labor,” he said. “They’re investing a lot in themselves. They’re learning new skills that they know will benefit the community as homes are sold. But here, they can come back any time in the future and say, ‘I helped build this.’”