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Guide to the Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wisconsin) Records, 1948-1997 (bulk 1985-1997) MSS 057

Guide to the Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wisconsin) Records, 1948-1997 (bulk 1985-1997)

MSS 057

Summary Information

This collection is comprised of records of the Hixon Forest Nature Center, which was operated by the Friends of Hixon Forest, Inc. and was located in Hixon Forest, a 790 acre city park in the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, from 1983-2008. Most materials date from 1985-1997, and include four series: historical background, administrative files, financial materials, and related materials and organizations. The group dissolved and re-emerged as the Myrick Hixon Ecopark in 2008.
Collection Title
Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wisconsin) Records
Date of Materials [bulk]
Bulk, 1985-1997
Date of Materials [inclusive]
Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wis.).
Call Number
MSS 057
3.6 cubic feet
Physical Description
9 archives boxes
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wisconsin) Records, MSS 057 La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

Hixon Forest is a 790-acre forest preserve in the city of La Crosse. While a number of different individuals owned the land that later became Hixon Forest, a La Crosse man, Norris Bachellor proposed purchasing Grandad Bluff in 1909 for the purpose of using it for a quarry. A group of citizens led by Mrs. Ellen J. Hixon, wife of Gideon C. Hixon, was concerned about the possible destruction of the bluff and contributed money to purchase the land. Joseph and Irene Hixon purchased Grandad Bluff for $12,000 and the adjoining property for $600. In 1912, the land was donated to the city of La Crosse to be used as a city park, which would be governed by a park commission.

While early trails existed, the development of trails truly began in 1975. The Greater La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce's Bicentennial Committee was searching for a project to commemorate the nation's bicentennial and decided to build a hiking trail through Hixon Forest. The committee and City Park Department planned the trails, but local civic groups and individuals donated $50,000 worth of labor and materials to build the trails. Signs were erected to mark the trails and to list names of different types of flora and fauna. The Hixon Forest Bicentennial Trail was dedicated on October 10, 1976, and was limited to hikers only.

In 1976, the La Crosse Common Council voted to release the federal government from its lease of the Forest Service watershed laboratory, constructed in 1966 in Hixon Forest, and the city took possession of the building. An initial proposal by a local citizens' group, Citizens' Committee for Environmental Education, proposed that the building be used as a nature center, but the La Crosse City Park Board felt the building might be put to other uses. The citizens' group, who later became the Coalition for Regional Environmental Education Development, continued to promote the use of the building as a nature center. In 1982, Pat Wilson and Barb Frank, made a presentation to the Board of Park Commissioners, and an agreement was reached to turn the building into a nature center.

Hixon Forest Nature Center opened on May 1, 1983 and was operated by The Friends of Hixon Forest Nature Center, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization governed by a board of directors, in cooperation with the City Park and Recreation Department. The Friends were involved in creating nature displays, preparing programs, giving guided walks and maintaining trails. Long-range planning began when the Board of Directors set two-year goals, which included hiring a naturalist. The Friends organization grew to nearly 200 members by March 1987.

The first naturalist/director, Erik Alexander, was hired in 1986 for six months to create and provide programming for area third grade students. The original intention was to hire Alexander to develop programming which volunteers would ultimately carry out after he left. Later the position was extended, and Alexander stayed until August 1989. Third grade classes visited the Nature Center and trails three times during the school year in conjunction with their science curriculum. Students from schools in other cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota also attended programs. Alexander trained additional volunteer naturalists.

The Board of Directors again became involved in long-range planning in November 1986. The creation of a five-year plan was completed in June 1987 and revised in February 1988. In 1988, the Park Board agreed to let the nature center begin charging fees to school groups who attended programs.

The City Parks and Recreation Department provided funding to hire another 1/4 time naturalist in 1988. The Friends of Hixon Forest Nature Center gave additional funds, and Darlene Schubert was hired as a naturalist on a half-time limited term basis in 1988. Her position was full-time by 1991.

Programming at the nature center continued to expand through the 1990s. A fox snake named Squiggles was the first live animal display in the center. Additional open hours were offered as of March 1991. In the summer of 1991, the first summer day camp was offered to first and second graders and included hiking, games and crafts. By 1993 four sessions of day camp were offered. After-school and weekend programs for small groups of elementary children were offered by March of 1992. Additional programming necessitated the hiring of two part-time seasonal naturalists. Staffing needs continued to grow. As of 2003, the nature center employed an executive director, two naturalists, and an administrative assistant.

When the nature center received a $50,000 grant from the Paul Stry Foundation in 1990, some of the money was used to conduct a feasibility study to decide the best ways to expand programs and services. The study was completed by November 1991. The trail system was improved in 1990 with the addition of new signs funded by a grant from the Stry Foundation. In June 1996, the Stry Foundation donated 20 acres of blufftop land to the city with the contingency that the land not be developed. In 1997, seventeen acres of wooded land on the southeast edge of Hixon Forest were purchased with funds generated from the nature center, Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Stewardship Fund, the Stry Foundation and private donations. This land was then donated to the city with the restriction that it would be kept in its natural state. In 1999, the Stry Foundation purchased a 51.5 acre parcel on the north end of Hixon Forest; the land was donated to the city to be managed under the Hixon Forest management plan.

Since the mid-1990s, prairie restoration has been a priority of the nature center. Staff and volunteers have been working to maintain native bluff top prairies and to restore some prairie into farmland. This process has involved controlled burning, cutting away undesirable plants, and seed collecting.

The popularity of mountain biking in the mid-1990s led to problems on the Hixon Forest trails including destruction of plants and subversion of erosion control measures. The safety of hikers was a major concern. In July 2001, the City Council banned the use of off-road vehicles, motorcycles, trail bikes or mountain bikes on Hixon Forest trails.

Human Powered Park Inc., a nonprofit organization of mountain biking enthusiasts, was given permission by the city to renovate an abandoned trail behind Hixon Forest, enabling bikers to access the Human Powered Park atop Grandad Bluff. It was hoped that use of this trail would cut down on illegal biking through Hixon Forest trails.

Hixon Forest and the nature center continue to grow and change. Hixon Forest Nature Center established a Butterfly Garden in July 2002. The garden included five kinds of butterflies native to Wisconsin and was designed to show visitors the life cycle of butterflies. In January 2003, Hixon Forest began a restoration project aimed at a 1.5 acre section of the forest. The goal was to remove undesirable trees such as box elder and black locust and replace them with hardwood trees native to the area such as oak, hickory and walnut.

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Scope and Contents

The collection consists of four series: Historical Materials, Administrative Materials, Financial Materials and Related Materials and Organizations. The materials in this collection span the 1948-1997 time period, but the bulk of the materials fall into the 1985-1997 date range.

Historical Materials include newspaper clippings (1948; 1978-1995), written histories of the Hixon Forest Nature Center and Hixon Forest, and information on the Hixon families (1987-1996). Much of the Hixon family file includes correspondence between members of the family and Hixon Forest Nature Center board and staff.

Administrative Materials make up the most extensive series in this collection. They include articles of incorporation and bylaws (1983-1995 with gaps), Board of Director materials (1982-1997), correspondence (1976-1995 with gaps), fundraising (1985-1996), long-range planning (1985-1997), permits (1974?; 1985-1987; 1991-1993), personnel (1986-1994), programming (1982-1997), publicity (1983-1997), trails (1975-1994), visitors (1983-1996), and volunteers (1986-1994).

Financial materials date from 1983-1996. The largest subseries is made up of budget materials dating from 1986-1996.

Related Materials and Organizations (1973-1993) include newspaper clippings relating to the La Crosse River Valley Marsh (1973-1992 with gaps), and City of La Crosse Park materials (1981?-1984; 1993).

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Arranged in four series:

Series 1: Historical Materials

Series 2: Administrative Materials

Series 3: Financial Materials

Series 4: Related Materials and Organizations

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 2003 August

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession nos. 1997.021, 1997.029) Donated by Brenda Haug, Executive Director, Sept. and Dec. 1997.

(Accession no. 2003.037) Donated by Peg Zappen, June 2003.

Processing Information

Processed by Christine Stolz and Jaime Dechant, August 2003.

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(MSS 025)
 Hixon Forest Nature Center Trail Committee Records
(Series 13)
 La Crosse Park and Recreation Department Records
(Series 20)
 Resolutions and Reports Relating to Parks
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Parks--Hixon Forest
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse-Marsh
(Ephemera file)
 La Crosse--Parks--Hixon Forest
(Local publications)
 Hixon Forest Nature Center Friends Newsletter
(MISC MSS 115)
 History of Hixon Forest Nature Center
(MISC MSS 074)
 History of Hixon Forest and Nature Center
(Local publications)
 Hixon Ecopark Friends Newsletter

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Hixon Forest (La Crosse, Wis.).
  • Hixon Forest Nature Center (La Crosse, Wis.).


  • Nature centers--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Parks--Wisconsin--La Crosse

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Collection Inventory

 (Series 1) Historical Materials 

Scope and Contents

The Historical Materials series includes written histories about Hixon Forest and Hixon Forest Nature Center. Brief facts and figures are also included here. The Hixon families file (1987-1996) includes a brief handwritten history of the Hixon family and a family tree. Most of the file contains correspondence between members of the Hixon family and the nature center board and staff. Newspaper clippings (1948; 1978-1995) are also part of the historical materials.

Box Folder


1 1

Hixon families, 1987-1996 

1 2

Newspaper clippings, 1948, 1978-1995 

1 3

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 (Series 2) Administrative Materials 

Scope and Contents

The Administrative Materials are quite extensive. Articles of incorporation and by-laws (1983-1995, gaps) are included for the Friends of the Hixon Forest Nature Center, the governing body of the Hixon Forest Nature Center.

Board of Director materials are separated into committee materials, member lists, minutes and reports. The Friends of Hixon Forest Nature Center Board of Directors utilize many committees to operate the center. The file of Committees and Backgrounds (1987-1996, gaps) includes materials that explain the governing structure of the nature center, the function of each of the committees, and the names of individuals who served on those committees from 1993-1995. Committee materials are arranged alphabetically by the name of each committee: administrative (1996), building (1982; 1992-1995), community awareness (1991-1995), education (1992-1994), executive (1991; 1993), fundraising (1987-1995), membership (1984-1996), natural areas ([n.d.]; 2003), nominating (1990-1994), trail (1984-1997, gaps). The information pertaining to the membership committee includes lists of members of The Friends of Hixon Forest as well as lists of non-renewing members (1990-1997).

Other administrative materials include the names of the Board of Directors in a member list file (1986-1994), correspondence (1976-1995, gaps), Board of Director minutes (1985-1996), and reports from the executive director (1993-1996) and the board president (1985?-1986; 1994).

The Hixon Forest Nature Center relies on grants and fundraising to generate the income needed to operate the center. A General Fundraising (1985-1994) file is comprised of information on minor fundraising events held by the center. Information on the Endowment Fund (1990-1996?) is included. Numerous individual files are available on specific fundraising events; they include information about the birdseed sale (1986-1995), sale of a limited edition egret bronze (1992), Earth Day (1980; 1989-1996), Jeans Day (1994-1995), June Nocturne (1987-1992), the Log Boom (1994-1996), the Nature Art Fair (1986), the River to Ridge Event (1995-1997), and Taste of La Crosse (1989-1995).

Information on grant writing and minor grants written by the Hixon Forest Nature Center are incorporated in a general grants file (1986-1996). Information pertaining to grants from Americorps (1994), Environmental Protection Agency (1994-1996), La Crosse Community Foundation (1986-1992), Paul E. Stry Foundation (1989-1995), and the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (1990-1995) are included in separate files. A market survey (1989) was compiled to determine the opinions of La Crosse County residents regarding the Hixon Forest Nature Center. Planned giving (1991) was another way in which Hixon Forest Nature Center generated funds.

Other administrative materials are comprised of long-range planning materials made up of general information (1985-1997), a feasibility study (1991), and a needs assessment (1994). Information on permits (1974?; 1985-1987; 1991-1993) issued to the Nature Center is included. The personnel (1896-1994) file contains job descriptions and salary schedules.

Hixon Forest Nature Center sponsors many programs for the public. Information relating to programming includes attendance (1987-1996), educators' workshops (1987-1988), environmental education (1985-1997), miscellaneous programs (1982-1995), snowshoe rental (1986; 1993), and the Trash-a-thon (1973; 1988-1994).

Publicity materials are also part of the administrative materials. Information on the animals and plants of Hixon Forest are included as well as brochures (1991-1994), logo design (1988), newsletters (1983-1997), and public service announcements (1983-1993).

A survey map (2003) indicates work done in surveying and inventorying the forest. A forest assessment (2004) examined the health of the trees in the forest. Background on the trails (1975-1994) of Hixon Forest includes maps, newspaper clippings, and brochures.

Visitor information includes a file on attendance (1983-1996), comprised largely of tally sheets and summarized attendance statistics, and visitor registration books (1983-1996).

General information on volunteers (1989-1996) is located with the administrative materials, as well as information about the Prairie Burncrew (1988-1990), a group of specially trained volunteers.

Box Folder

Articles of incorporation/bylaws,, 1983-1995 

1 4

Board of Directors 


Box Folder

Appointments and background, 1987-1996 

1 5

Administrative, 1996 

1 6

Building, 1966-1995 

1 7

Community awareness, 1991-1995 

1 8

Education, 1992-1994 

1 9

Executive, 1991-1993 

1 10

Fundraising, 1987-1995 

1 11


Box Folder


1 12


2 1

Non-renewals, 1990-1997 

2 2
Box Folder

Natural areas, 2003 

2 3

Nominating, 1990-1994 

2 4

Trail, 1984-1997 

2 5
Box Folder

Member lists, 1986-1994 

2 6

Minutes, 1985-1996 

2 7-8


Box Folder

Executive Director, 1993-1996 

2 9

President, 1985-1994 

2 10
Box Folder

Correspondence, 1976-1995 

2 11


Box Folder

General, 1985-1994 

3 1

Endowment Fund, 1990-1996 

3 2


Box Folder

Bird Seed Sale, 1986-1995 

3 3-4

Earth Day, 1980, 1989-1996 

3 5

Egret Bronze, 1992 

3 6

Jeans Day, 1984-1995 

3 7

June Nocturne, 1987-1992 

3 8

Log Boom, 1994-1996 

3 9

Nature Art Fair, 1986 

3 10

River to Ridge, 1995-1997 

3 11

Taste of La Crosse, 1989-1995 

3 12


Box Folder


4 1


4 2

Americorps, 1994 

4 3

Environmental Protection Agency grant, 1994-1996 

4 4

La Crosse Community Foundation, 1986-1992 

4 5

Paul E. Stry Foundation, 1989-1995 

4 6-7

Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, 1990-1995 

5 1
Box Folder

Market Survey, 1989 

5 2

Planned Giving, 1991 

5 3

Long Range Planning 

Box Folder

Feasibility Study, 1991 

5 4

General, 1985-1997 

5 5-6

Needs Assessment, 1994 

5 7
Box Folder

Permits, 1974-1993 

5 8

Personnel, 1986-1994 

5 9


Box Folder

Attendance, 1987-1996 

6 1

Educators' workshops, 1987-1988 

6 2

Environmental education, 1985-1997 

6 3

Miscellaneous programs, 1982-1994 

6 4

Snowshoe rental, 1986, 1993 

6 5

Trash-a-thon, 1973, 1988-1994 

6 6


Box Folder

Animals and plants, undated 

6 7

Brochures, 1991-1994 

6 8

Logo design, 1988 

6 9

Newsletters, 1983-1997 

6 10-11
Box Folder

Public service announcements, 1983-1993 

7 1

Survey map, 2003 

7 2

Trails, 1975-1994 

7 3


Box Folder

Attendance statistics, 1983-1996 

7 4

Registers, 1983-1996 

7 5-6



Box Folder


7 7


8 1
Box Folder

Prairie Burn Crew, 1986-1994 

8 2

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 (Series 3) Financial Materials 

Scope and Contents

Financial materials provide information for the time period between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. Materials include assets (1992-1993), balance sheets (1992-1996), budget materials (1986-1996), cash books (1989-1993), financial statements (1983-1996), income statements (1983-1996), merchant account program-MasterCard/Visa (1994), nonprofit status (1984-1986), sales tax (1986-1989), and tax forms and licensing (1984-1990). Other financial information can be found among the fundraising files in the Administrative Materials series.

Box Folder

Assets, 1992-1993 

8 3

Balance sheets, 1992-1996 

8 4


Box Folder


8 5


8 6
Box Folder

Cash books, 1989-1993 

8 7-8

Income statements, 1993-1996 

9 1

Merchant account program, 1994 

9 2

Nonprofit status, 1984-1986 

9 3

Sales tax, 1996-1989 

9 4

Wisconsin tax forms and licensing, 1984-1990 

9 5

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 (Series 4) Related Materials and Organizations 

Scope and Contents

The fourth series is Related Materials and Organizations. Included here are newspaper clippings about the La Crosse River Valley Marsh (1973-1992), and La Crosse Park materials (1981?-1984; 1993).

Box Folder

Newspaper clippings, 1973-1992 

9 6

City of La Crosse park materials, 1981-1993 

9 7

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