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Worthington's Wetland Learning Center upgraded with new floating dock and restored trail

Parcel is located on Read Avenue, north of Nobles County 35, on the east side of Worthington.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees strategize the assembly of a floating dock at the Worthington Wetland Learning Area and Waterfowl Production Area Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees strategize the assembly of a floating dock at the Worthington Wetland Learning Area and Waterfowl Production Area Tuesday afternoon.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-owned Waterfowl Production Area and Wetland Learning Area received some much-needed attention this week, as a work crew from Ohio was in town to demolish the wooden duck blind and existing dock in favor of a new floating dock with a fishing pier.

The property, located along Read Avenue, is one of USFWS’ few parcels located so close to a city and provides the public with an opportunity to connect with nature. In addition to a wetland that offers opportunities for fishing (primarily carp) and waterfowl watching, the site features a walking trail through reseeded native prairie grasses and flowers.

Wood ducks and blue-winged teal flush out of a pond in the Worthington Waterfowl Production Area Tuesday afternoon.
Wood ducks and blue-winged teal flush out of a pond in the Worthington Waterfowl Production Area Tuesday afternoon.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Jonathan Beyer, Project Leader with the Windom Wetland Management District, said the USFWS partnered with the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District and the Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District to fund the new dock. The OOWD and SWCD each contributed $3,500 toward the cost.

“This project is part of the Great American Outdoors Act,” Beyer explained, noting that the Act was signed into law by the Trump Administration in August 2020 to prioritize investments in public access and recreation and help the USFWS fund some of its deferred maintenance projects.

Both the duck blind and dock — as well as the trail system at the Wetland Learning Area — qualified because it’s been at least 20 years since any improvements were made to the site. Beyer also noted that the duck blind had become a safety hazard and had been closed to the public.

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A walking trail at the Worthington Wetland Learning Area and Waterfowl Production Area are flagged for an upgraded trail that will include crushed concrete and bituminous that will be packed to build up a new path.
A walking trail at the Worthington Wetland Learning Area and Waterfowl Production Area are flagged for an upgraded trail that will include crushed concrete and bituminous that will be packed to build up a new path.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“We were fortunate to get these projects funded through (the Act),” Beyer said.

The Ohio crew — USFWS members who make up a Great American Outdoors Act team — travel the country to do maintenance on USFWS property, which helps Wetland Management Districts like the one in Windom, which has a smaller staff and a 13-county area in which to work.

Funded by federal energy revenues, Beyer said the Act will pay for an estimated $475 million in deferred maintenance projects across the country.

The new floating T-dock installed at the Worthington site isn’t fully completed, as there are four benches and several pieces of railing that have yet to arrive. Beyer hoped the parts could be installed before the end of this month.

A Common Yellowthroat Warbler sits on a clump of mud left after the removal of the old observation blind at the  Worthington Waterfowl Production Area.
A Common Yellowthroat Warbler sits on a clump of mud left after the removal of the old observation blind at the Worthington Waterfowl Production Area.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“We’ll get them in as soon as we get them,” he said.

The dock is considerably larger than the one it replaced, and Beyer said it will be ideal for classrooms to gather for programming. While USFWS doesn’t have a large enough staff in Windom to lead programs at the site, plans are to update the kiosk for self-guided environmental education.

“It’s a unique WPA for us because it is so close to town,” Beyer said. “We’re trying to increase people’s connections to nature.”

The Nobles SWCD each year coordinates a program at the Wetland Learning Center with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center. The PEBC offers a program inside its mobile science lab, and then fifth-graders get a tour of the wetland from SWCD and OOWD staff.

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“We have them here every year,” said Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, of the two-day program offered each September.

Livdahl said he often sees people walking the trail or watching the waterfowl when he’s in the area. The watershed district supported the new dock to encourage people to use the site.

While rains on Wednesday and Thursday delayed the rehabilitation efforts on the existing trail, that project should also wrap up in the coming week. Once a gravel trail, the nearly half-mile loop had become overgrown with grass and was maintained as a mowed trail.

“We’re going to add some crushed concrete,” Beyer said, noting that the site is also scheduled for a prescribed burn this year to rejuvenate the native grasses and flowers planted there.

People are welcome to walk their dogs at the site, but they are asked to keep their dogs leashed and clean up after their pets.

Because the WPA is located within city limits, hunting is not allowed.

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Related Topics: WORTHINGTONNOBLES COUNTY
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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