It’s official; the now has a new owner and operator.
The YWCA purchased the property in 1959, but they recently wanted to sell the property because it no longer fit their mission. Earlier this year, Racine County bought it, but officials didn't really want to run a park. Now, a newly formed non-profit group - the River Bend Nature Center Inc. - will lease the property from the County for a nominal cost and operate the facility.
Spearheaded by Roger Chernik of Mount Pleasant and several members of other conservation groups, their primary purpose will be to keep the facility open and offer a wide variety of programs.
The County is leasing the River Bend to Chernik’s group on a 10-year renewable lease, which requires River Bend Nature Center Inc. to pay for all operating and capitol improvement costs. However, any improvements still need approval by the Racine County Board.
“We’re very happy the County worked with us,” Chernik said. “They were very professional with us, and even though it took a little longer than we wanted, it was worth it because we have to respect the rights of all of the people living in the county.”
Jim Ladwig, Racine County executive, held a news briefing in February announcing that a preliminary agreement had been reached between Racine County and the YWCA of Racine to purchase the property for $400,000. Using Land And Water Conservation (LAWCON) funds they received years ago from the federal government, no county taxes were used for the purchase, Ladwig said.
Caledonia Patch featured Chernik and the group in February. Click to read the story.
Now that Chernik’s group has an agreement on the lease, they’ll focus on cleaning up and updating the property so that they can hold an open house.
“We’ll show what we’ve accomplished and what needs to be done,” Chernik said.
Volunteers will focus on opening up the nature center for recreational activity and the group is close to making a selection for their executive director.
“We hope to have them on the job soon, but we need to make sure we have our financial goals set,” Chernik said. “Because we haven’t quite finished up the paperwork for the non-profit status, we haven’t been able to take in donations. However, we have been able to talk to people.”
Once the facility is cleaned up and has an executive director, the volunteer group hopes to re-establish the school programs the YWCA offered. But the volunteers also intend to go way beyond that in scope and quality with adult ‘citizen science’ programs and special events. Leadership Racine is also working on two projects in the winter.
Chernik said the volunteer group exceeds 40 people, but they are always looking for more people with the commitment and capacity to work.
To get involved, please call Roger Chernik at (262) 989-7530.