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The Tamarac Visitor Center will be closed for roughly a year while crews install geo-thermal heating and cooling and solar panels to make it more eco-friendly. Submitted Photo

Tamarac goes green, center will be closed

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

The Tamarac Visitor Center will be closing its doors for the next year, but the shutdown has employees there very excited.

That's because they will soon literally be tapping into the nature around the refuge to supply more eco-friendly energy to the building.

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The Visitor Center will be retrofitted to include geothermal heating and cooling in an attempt to cut dependence on fossil fuels.

"Unlike other comfort systems, geothermal does not emit carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gasses, which contribute to air quality pollution," said Tamarac Park Ranger Kelly Blackledge, who says solar panels will also be added to provide a portion of the center's electricity.

"The building was built with a sloped roof to hold solar panels, but at that time solar technology was just too expensive," said Blackledge, "now it's much more affordable and it's far more efficient."

Refuge officials expect energy consumption to be cut in half because of the project, which they say is not only good news for the environment, but for its ever-shrinking, federally funded budget.

Blackledge says the investment is being paid for by the Department of Interior and other federal agencies, as Tamarac is one of several government-owned buildings across Minnesota and the United States that are part of this green project.

"Using solar energy is a long lasting commitment to Minnesota's future," Blackledge said, "This energy retrofit project also includes installing energy efficient windows, additional insulation, high efficient lighting, water reducing fixtures and more."

Solar tubes will also be placed throughout the building for lighting and motion sensors installed so that lights only come on when there is somebody in the room.

Construction on the project begins July 9 so that the center can be open for the big Independence Day holiday.

Once it closes, the nine Tamarac employees that are headquartered at the center will relocate to an old residence on the refuge.

And while visitors will be without a central place to meet for activities, Blackledge says staff will improvise with different meeting spots.

"We will still hold all of the interpretive programs and activities," she said, "but this will just force us to look for new ways of communicating with people about the refuge and greeting people. We'll be able to explore some of the beautiful places around the refuge that people otherwise might not have seen."

Tamarac volunteers will also be placed periodically throughout the wildlife drive to help answer questions while the Visitor Center is closed.

"There's always something different happening, something else blooming or another species of wildlife that's active, and we want to make sure to provide those opportunities to tell people about that," said Blackledge.

Kiosks will also be placed around the refuge with a sunburst logo for visitors, updating them on the construction project and informing them on how the changes will affect the environment and the wildlife around them.

Restrooms will still be available for visitors at the Chippewa picnic area and the Pine Lake parking area, and the wildlife refuge itself will still be open during its regular hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

One major drawback for this project is the financial impact it will have on the Friends of Tamarac.

The gift shop, located in the Visitor Center, is run by the group and provides roughly half of the Friends' yearly funding.

"So we formed a special committee to figure out how to do some special fundraising," said Ron Jenson, who is on the Friends of Tamarac board of directors. "One of the projects we'll do over the summer is to do clean-up after WE Fest to generate some more income -- we've got about 30 volunteers for that."

Jenson says they'll continue to hold the popular Toast to Tamarac in the fall at the Richwood Winery, which is their most lucrative fundraiser.

The 140-150 Friends of Tamarac will also now either conduct its meetings at the same refuge residence as Tamarac employees or will meet off-the refuge somewhere.

Even with the inconveniences that are sure to come for those involved with the refuge, Jenson says everybody seems pretty excited about the project.

"It'll help make our group more efficient, too," said Jenson.

Updates and information on the project will be posted on Facebook at "Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge," or people can also sign up for e-blasts by emailing a note to tamarac@fws.gov.

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