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Humanities During the Pandemic

Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center

Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center is nestled among the gorgeous ridges and river valleys of Wisconsin’s unique Driftless region. Norskedalen is a unique place, too—a spot that allows visitors to reflect on human heritage, the natural world, and how the two intertwine.

 

This past spring, the COVID-19 pandemic compelled many cultural institutions to close their doors to the public. Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center is one of the many organizations that faced a huge loss in revenue from the lack of visitors as well as cancelled programs and events.

Through a series of CARES grants, Wisconsin Humanities has provided much-needed financial support to many of those organizations, including Norskedalen.

“We asked for support for the allowable utilities,” said Norskedalen’s Executive Director, Lori Dubczak. “Things like our electric, our accountant, garbage disposal. Those are expenses we have whether we have people out here or not. Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’d do without it. The CARES grant being so accessible for these things has just been a lifesaver.”

While funding things like electric bills and garbage pickup may not sound inspiring, they’re certainly essential to keeping inspirational places like Norskedalen alive.

“The immigrants that settled in this area were predominantly Norwegian,” explains Executive Director Lori Dubczak. “They built their lives, they built their homesteads, they did what all the other immigrants did. The generation that is now in their 80s or so decided that they wanted their grandchildren to remember all of this.” That jump-started the enormous effort to move and preserve several buildings from those original homesteads. “Then we combined it with the nature of the area, because that’s a big part of the Norwegian culture, also,” says Dubczak.

Visitors come to Norskedalen for “education and celebration,” according to Dubczak. They walk the nature trails, view the old homesteads and galleries in the Visitors’ Center, and attend community events and classes that help keep Norwegian traditions alive.

Now, Norskedalen is figuring out how to solve another big problem caused by the pandemic: how to keep its staff, volunteers, and visitors safe.

“We cannot sanitize 150-year-old artifacts,” Dubczak says. “Just the thought of it makes me cringe. Most of our exhibits are open-air, and they’re able to be touched, and so what do you do? You can tell guests not to touch things, but they still touch things.”

Dubczak decided to temporarily close all of Norskedalen’s buildings and restrooms to the public. Fortunately, the nature trails have remained open to small groups, and Dubczak is happy to report that they’ve launched several new outdoor features, as well. One is the new “Moving History” program, which was also partially funded by Wisconsin Humanities. “It’s an audio tour that you access by your cell phone, so you’re not touching our equipment,” Dubczak explains. Visitors can walk the trails while listening to recordings of Norskedalen’s founding volunteers tell stories about moving the old buildings to their current homes.

We’re so grateful that cultural institutions like Norskedalen continue to find ways to continue serving the public through delightful, thought-provoking experiences, even during such challenging times.

Want to learn more about Norskedalen? Visit their website at https://www.norskedalen.org/.

Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.