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New Discovery Center rises at Tamarac, courtesy of nonprofit Friends of Tamarac fundraising

Shingling was going on recently as the Tamarac Discovery Center progresses. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

The walls are up, roof on, windows in and next week will be huge in terms of construction over at Tamarac’s new Discovery Center. Heating, electrical and sheetrock installation are all scheduled for next week.

It’s all coming to fruition, after seven years of talking and four years of working.

However, the building intended to enhance education of Tamarac’s great outdoors, is far from done and far from paid for.

Friends of Tamarac, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to enhancing the refuge and the entity responsible for the creation of the facility, is falling roughly $95,000 short of what it will take to finish the roughly $600,000 project.

“We’re busy calling around to different people hoping to get some donations,” said Ron Jenson, president of the Friends of Tamarac.

Jenson says they do have some pledges they hope will come through that would reduce that debt by several thousand, but he expects the group will not meet its original goal of having the facility paid for by the end of summer.

“So now we’re hoping for the beginning of the year,” he said, adding that the group’s Toast of Tamarac fundraiser is coming up Sept. 12, and that’s expected to raise at least some funds for the project.

Jenson says he and the other “friends” have been pleased by the smaller $10 and $20 donations that continue to come in (and add up) through the newly re-opened visitor’s center, and are also excited about the fact that U.S. Fish and Wildlife has agreed to help with some of the “finishing touches.”

Although the governmental agency is not allowed to donate money to a particular group, it is allowed to participate in projects.

“Once we’re completely done with the building, then we’ll hand it over to Fish & Wildlife, and they’ve agreed to do all the landscaping, which can be quite expensive, and they’ll do the well and a handicapped accessible trail,” said Jenson, who adds all that will help out tremendously.

He says the Friends of Tamarac are also busy trying to make themselves more visible throughout the community, popping up at places like Crazy Daze in Detroit Lakes in order to raise awareness, and hopefully, funds.

“Because I feel so sorry for all the businesses here — they are constantly getting hit up for donations from everybody,” said Jenson, who says although their group is strong, there’s only “so much they can do.”

“But we’ll get it — it’ll just take a little longer than we thought,” he said, adding that the “friends” are very determined to get their education program opened up by winter.

What it will offer

As more and more kids become progressively “plugged in” to technology, local educators seem to be viewing Tamarac as a unique opportunity to get them outdoors.

“We’re up to around 3,000 to 3,500 school kids who come every year,” said Jenson, adding that area schools are catching on to what Tamarac has to offer and demand for educational activities out there is growing.

The Discovery Center will be that education hub that keeps kids and nature together at Tamarac. The building will include a multi-purpose meeting room, storage and restrooms.

The group is also paying to have Wi-Fi installed, so that students can use their iPads at the facility to enhance their learning experience.

The 50-kid classroom center will provide a spot for students to be if weather is harsh.

There will be an amphitheater outside that drops down a foot and a half, with benches around it and a large compass in the middle. “So they can all know their directions,” said Jenson, who adds branching out from there will be four complete instruction areas outside and at least five other activity stations spread into the trees.

It’s mostly volunteers who provide these experiences for local students. In fact, the Friends of Tamarac typically put in around 1,500 hours a year of their own time to these education programs.

“But once you have that experience with a youngster in the woods, and see their smiles and what happens, it’s transforming, and it’s pretty hard to say no,” said Jenson.