Community Spotlight: Snakes, salamanders & more bring learning to life in Muscatine


“We have as much hands on activity as we can get,” says Curt Weiss, the Muscatine County Conservation Board Director.

For more than 30 years, Weiss has been helping bring people and animals together. 

“A lot of museums and that you go to they’ll say, ‘Don’t touch, hands off,’ we have tables that say, ‘Hands on,’ we want people to pick it up, we want them to look at them, we want them to touch the furs,” he says.  

Weiss and his team run the Environmental Learning Center in Muscatine. 

“We have over 100 mounted animals here, all native species in and around Muscatine County,” Weiss says.  

You can touch animal hides, like buffalo, that no longer dot Iowa’s plains.

And others, like deer, that have made a comeback.

It’s all about bringing life into learning. 

“It’s very easy for us to read a book and learn about ecosystems or the habitat, but then if you bring an animal in that’s native to that habitat, it really makes a big impact on the kids and the parents and the teachers, as well,” says Michelle Berns, a naturalist at the center.

The center also has birds, all of which have suffered severe injuries and can’t be placed back into the wild. 

“In a lot of circumstances if a bird can’t be placed then it has to be euthanized, so to be able to put it in a zoo or museum or other facility where it can be utilized for other purposes, kind of like an ambassador,” Berns says.  

Giving new purpose to old wings like Nadie’s, a Barn Owl with an eye injury. 

Naturalists at the center teach up to 12,000 people a year– everything from furs and feathers to slithering scales. 

And if you’re brave, you can take your learning to the next level; the center offers a hands-on experience with turtles, toads, snakes, salamanders and more. 

That interaction between humans and nature is what keeps Weiss’ team coming into work everyday. 

“It brings another focus into the classroom and gets kids more excited,” Berns says. 

The Environmental Learning Center’s next event is Monarch Tagging on Saturday, September 16th. 

Find out more by clicking here

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