Supporters of the Southeast Kansas Nature Center in Galena say the state's decision to take over operation of the center will help ensure its survival and draw tourists to the area.
The Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism said Tuesday that it will begin operating the nature center after agreements are signed with center's board and the Galena City Council officially approves them. The state is already advertising for a director of the center, which currently is operated by volunteers and funded mostly by donations and grants, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/XVVw9X ).
The center's founder, Linda Phipps, a retired teacher, asked the state in December to take over the center, which has one of the few remaining pieces of the Ozarks in Kansas and is the home for many threatened or endangered reptiles and amphibians. Phipps said many of the volunteers, including herself, are older and ready to spend less time at the center.
Phipps first proposed that the state take over the center two years ago, but that request was rejected because of state budget problems.
"It was what we have been hoping for for a long time," Phipps said. "I feel like this will ensure that the nature center will go on when some of our key people are not there any longer. It's the answer to a prayer. Or lots of prayers, maybe."
Mayor Dale Oglesby also was happy about the news, saying it will allow for park improvements and perhaps new educational opportunities. He said Galena city officials, Phipps and representatives from the center's board will meet with state officials to draft the memorandum of understanding, although no date was set for the meeting.
Mike Radar, wildlife education coordinator for the state parks and wildlife department, said the change likely won't disrupt operations at the center, although the new director may propose new programs.
"We want to maintain the involvement of the board and Linda," he said. "Of course we will have final say on operations, but we'd like to keep them in an advisory capacity."
A federal senior citizen grant funds two part-time staff members at the center. The volunteers conduct programs at the park for schools in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, along with after-school programs for about 90 Galena students a week, summer camps, adult programs and special presentations.