State may take over Southeast Nature Center

GALENA — Linda Phipps is planning for a day when she'll be less involved in the Southeast Kansas Nature Center.

Although that day could be several years away, Phipps is preparing a proposal that she will submit to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, asking it to take over operation of the nature center and the surrounding Schermerhorn Park in the future.

The Galena City Council on Monday gave Phipps the go-ahead to proceed with the proposal, said Mayor Dale Oglesby.

"We were just wanting to make sure the center goes on in the future," Phipps said.

Her proposal will emphasize the educational opportunities offered at the nature center.

Phipps said she thinks the state agency will give her proposal serious consideration, noting that the Department of Wildlife and Parks already owns property south of the park, providing a buffer area free of residential development.

She said it also may help that the plan isn't urgent, considering the state's financial crisis.

Mike Hayden, secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Parks, said the agency will give the proposal serious consideration. He was familiar with the idea.

"We want to see that center continue to be successful," Hayden said. "What form that takes, we're open-minded about."

He said the nature center would be a good fit for the department. It already operates the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, the Milford Nature Center in Milford and the Prairie Center in Lenexa.

"We own land adjacent to the nature center," Hayden said of the Galena site. "We're already a neighbor. We also operate nature centers around the state. We are in the environmental education business. We have enjoyed a good working relationship with Linda and the community in Galena."

The Southeast Kansas Nature Center opened in March 2004 after a few years of development and construction.

Shoal Creek flows through the park. A renovated former Scouting cabin holds several nature displays. Nature trails and an amphitheater for educational programs have been built in the park.

Inside the park is Schermerhorn Cave. Public access is prohibited to protect the cave's wildlife.

The park is the only location in Kansas that is considered part of the Ozarks. It is the habitat of some lizard species found nowhere else in Kansas, though they are common in Missouri.

Carl Hayes, environmentalist with the Cherokee County Health Department, said when told of the idea that he thinks it is a reasonable plan for the nature center when the time comes. He also said he hopes the transition is years away.

"You'll never find someone with the passion that Linda has," Hayes said. "She always treated it like a local treasure. She's made that place what it is."