HORICON, Wis. — Whether you like history, hiking, herons or hearing about hunters and the hunted, you’ll want to head to Horicon for the grand opening of the Explorium at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor center.
The Aug. 22 event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area off of Highway 28 between Horicon and Mayville, will feature tours of the new Explorium, opportunities for hands-on science in the center’s learning lab, guided hikes with Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists and more. Visitors to the center will find a charging woolly mammoth, walk-through glacier, an airboat simulator ride and a giant great blue heron replica.
“We’re thrilled to welcome the public to the Explorium and experience all it has to offer,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “DNR greatly appreciates the work of the Friends of Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center to develop a shared vision and help secure the support needed for this unique conservation-themed attraction. The Explorium exhibits bring the history of Horicon Marsh to life and showcase our state’s natural heritage.”
Bret Owsley, Horicon area natural resources supervisor for DNR, said the $3.7 million project — made possible with nearly $1 million in donations from the private Friends group — will benefit the surrounding communities as visitor numbers grow from 50,000 to a projected 150,000 per year within the first three years. In addition to school field trips, youth group visits and adult tours, the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center is expected to draw more families and individual visitors to take advantage of the offerings.
Construction of the new educational displays and hands-on exhibits has been underway for more than a year and the displays occupy portions of both the first floor and lower level. An auditorium capable of seating 120 and learning laboratories complete the lower level, which opens onto more than 5 miles of winding trails through a variety of habitats in the 11,000 acre state marsh.
The Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center building was completed in 2009, but portions of the building were left largely unfinished until the planning for the interpretive displays was completed. DNR contracted with Taylor Studios of Rantoul, Ill., to design and manufacture the lifelike exhibits.
“The Explorium encourages visitors of all ages to look, listen, touch and even smell the changes in the marsh over many thousands of years,” Owsley said. “We think young visitors will especially enjoy some of the special touches developed by Taylor Studios including the fresh ‘mammoth’ scent and replica water control gates similar to those that help us manage the marsh today.”
Part of the nation’s largest freshwater cattail marsh — the state land borders an additional 22,000 acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the history of Horicon spans some 12,000 years. As visitors walk through the new Explorium, the story of the marsh and its inhabitants stretching from the Ice Age through modern times is narrated by a talking Clovis spear point.
Horicon Marsh started as a network of rivers and wetlands left behind by receding glaciers and grew into the world’s largest man-made lake after early settlers built a dam to power a sawmill in the 1840s. When the state Supreme Court ordered the dam removed in 1869, the marsh quickly returned and began drawing huge flocks of migratory waterfowl and other birds.
After market hunting depleted the bird populations, a short-lived attempt to ditch and drain the marsh for farming from 1910 to 1914 ended in failure. Then, during the 1920s, conservation-minded citizens pressed the Legislature for support and started a restoration process that continues to this day.
Drawing on this history, highlights of the new exhibits include:
An area depicting the receding glaciers, complete with a mammoth charging out of the wall and examples of the flint-knapped Clovis points found in these early hunting grounds.
A walk-through glacier that creates a chill in the air as visitors learn more about the Ice Age and origins of the marsh.
A private hunting lodge, similar to those of the late 1800s. Interactive displays show the effect of market hunting on wildlife during this time and highlight the role of local hunting clubs in trying to create the first set of hunting regulations.
Hand-carved decoys produced by Burton Lange and John Yasger, local artisans who gained a national reputation for their work.
Numerous bird and animal mounts as well as examples of common marsh plants.
The grand opening event kicks off Aug. 22 with welcoming remarks starting at 10 a.m. Visitors may sign up for Explorium tours online.
Advance registration for guided hiking tours of the marsh also is encouraged.
Wisconsin – Grand Opening of Explorium at Horicon Marsh Center
Parking for the grand opening event will be available at the visitor center, N7725 Wisconsin 28, Horicon, Wis., 53032, and shuttles also will be available from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. from the St. Stephen Church, 505 N. Palmatory St., Horicon, Wis. To learn more, visit the Horicon Marsh page on the Wisconsin DNR website.