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Xcel grant helps Visitor, Learning Center

Trudy Popenhagen, Community Service Manager for Xcel Energy, presents the check to Jessica Bierbrauer, Executive Director of the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center at Freedom Park, for traveling environmental and cultural education programs in Pierce County. (Submitted photo)

PRESCOTT--Continuing a tradition of strengthening the communities served, Xcel Energy recently awarded grants totalling $80,000 for 19 nonprofit educational and environmental programs, including the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center in Prescott. 

Trudy Popenhagen, Xcel Community Service Manager, presented the grant check for $2,000 to Jessica Bierbrauer, Learning Center Executive Director.

“This is an important part of what we do – small organizations may not be able to get the money to produce lasting programs,” Popenhagen said. “Xcel Energy believes fostering growth on local organizations has a very positive effect on communities.”

Since 2006, thousands of people have visited the center to learn more about the history of Western Wisconsin. According to Bierbrauer, the center’s mission is to provide high quality educational programs highlighting Western Wisconsin’s Great Rivers confluence area, where the Mississippi River meets the St. Croix River, and its tremendous natural beauty. From the learning center’s inception, funding from outside sources has helped the organization grow.

“When we first started in 2006, we utilized funding like this in different forms,” Bierbrauer said. “Our early activities were funded by Xcel Energy community grants that helped us get our cultural and environmental education programming off the ground.”

But not all the learning coming from the center educators happens at their picturesque location. Every year, more than 500 school children receive in-classroom presentations from the group, focused on two subjects: Rocks and Minerals, and the Historic Fur Trade.

Bierbrauer said her group provides supplemental educational programming in areas where there are limited funds for off-site field trips. By bringing hands-on environmental and cultural learning into the classroom, she said their programs have become a valuable and appreciated benefit to surrounding communities.

“As classroom needs change, it will be even more important to have programs like this in place,” Bierbrauer said. “The school districts we work with have been excited and thankful to have these programs available, and that they can be brought into the classroom for free is great.”

With the new grant money from Xcel Energy, Bierbrauer said the educators at the center will develop a third education course, entitled “Communities Have History,” to provide schoolchildren with local history not typically provided in their school’s history textbooks.