In October, 2018, JDCF’s board and staff met to set and prioritize strategic initiatives that would become the drivers for the Foundation’s shift towards in-creased education and outreach through Conservation 2.0 over the next 3-5 years. A proposed Discovery Center at the Wapello Reserve emerged as one of three projects deemed most important. A vision of the Friends of Wapello since its founding in 2008, the Discovery Center would tell the story of our Driftless landscape through the voices of native peoples who trace their ancestry to this region. It is seen as a place for learning and celebrating Native American heritage, present day tribal groups, and the native wildlife habi-tat in NW Illinois in both an indoor space – the center, and an outdoor space – the prairies and woodlands of the lower Apple River.
A milestone in the development of the Discovery Center at Wapello was reached this fall when a two day gathering of tribal representatives and a core group of JDCF staff and volunteers took place. Although a conference call with some of those in attendance had taken place in June, this was the first in-person meeting to be held. Its purpose was to begin thinking about what content the center would hold and, with no better place to begin this process than out on the land, day one found the group touring both the Wapello and Portage Preserves. That evening, a welcome dinner was held at Chestnut Mountain Resort where a larger group of people who have also been involved with the project were invited to meet and hear from the tribal leaders over a casual buffet dinner. On the second day, the core group re-assembled to brainstorm on story and content in two sessions mod-erated by Dr. Alaka Wali, curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division at the Chicago Field Museum. The day concluded with next steps to be taken, including JDCF staff reciprocating travel by meeting with tribal groups in their communities this coming spring.
The Wapello Land and Water Reserve is an important, historical place that tells the story of the impact the lives of indigenous people had on the evolution of human culture. Recognizing and honoring the con-tributions of these past people, and their present day descendants, in creating the dynamic social fabric of what we consider American, is long overdue. All involved are excited to see the many moving parts of this project come together.