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AUSTIN EDITION - COL At the fair, visit with nature center's friends

There's a very special wild place in Austin. So special that nearly 50,000 people visit it annually.

If you guessed the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, you're right. The nature center is getting wilder all the time, thanks in part to a fund-raiser engineered by the Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

This week's Mower County Fair is kick-off time for the nature center's second annual October Feast set for Oct. 28 at St. Edwards Corcoran Center. The fall event includes a social hour, banquet for 300, a program emceed by local storyteller Al Batt, raffles, theme baskets, and silent and live auctions.

Proceeds from these activities help support the permanent staff, programs and operations for the nature center.

When you stop at the Friends booth in the Ike's building at the fair, a $1 raffle ticket (six for $5) will buy you a chance to win two $30-per-person feast banquet tickets. Call 433-2735 or 437-7519 for more information.

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At the fair booth, you'll get the low-down on the wild place, and you'll be able to talk with a Friends' representative about donating an item, maybe two, for the silent or live auctions.

Your donation helps ensure that the nature center continues its many services. The nature center's wildness includes 340 acres, more than 10 miles of trail, wild animals and birds, native plants and trees. Opportunities run the gamut and include canoe trips, fishing ecology, junior naturalist sessions, nature walks, survival in the wild, Monarch butterfly tagging, maple syruping, heritage crafts and more.

Extra special times during the year are the free programs in Ruby Rupner Auditorium, Easter egg hunt, and tree planting.

Students and families -- 10,089 of them -- participated in 325 programs in 2003. All this with only two full-time staff members and a part time intern. Wild.

Programming is emphasized for preschool and grades K-6, but all ages are welcome.

According to center director Larry Dolphin, associate Julie Champlin and Feast chairman Bob Roberts, the first October Feast was a great success, providing support for the environmental education internship, the free Ruby Rupner programs offered throughout the year, and funds for permanent staffing and other long-term needs.

In the face of state budget cuts severely affecting rural Minnesota cities such as Austin, raising funds continues to be important this year, to keep the nature center going as the only environmental education day use facility for Mower and Freeborn counties.

On Oct. 28, your banquet ticket will avail you of a real fall feast: pork loin with cranberry sauce, glazed apples, acorn squash, tossed salad, dinner roll, baked potato with toppings and a dessert of pumpkin crunch with topping -- in addition to the fun of the program and the auctions.

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Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Where the wild things are. Visit the Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center booth at the fair ... and go wild.

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