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Waterfowl museum a product of passion

Waterfowl museum a product of passion

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Nichol and Craig Swenson have spent the past few months getting all their ducks in a row at their new venture near the north shore entrance to Devil’s Lake State Park.

Flyways Waterfowl Museum, which sits tucked off the road near the intersection of Highways 159 and 123, is a veritable treasure trove of information, exhibits and artifacts related to ducks, geese and swans.

The museum opened in June and features mounts of more than 60 species of waterfowl, all collected by Craig Swenson, an avid sportsman.

“What started me on this road is that I have studied conservation,” said his wife, Nichol Swenson, who developed her interest in the natural world at a young age.

An East Coast transplant, she has a master’s degree in conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

“I grew up on a barrier island in New Jersey where I saw a lot of beach erosion,” she said.

Craig Swenson and his brother, Rick, grew up hunting.

“My father was a big hunter and trapper and that when I was young, and I started probably around 6 years old, I guess,” he said of time spent growing up in McFarland.

The couple met through Craig Swenson’s work as an electrician and bonded over their love for Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

They decided several years ago to share their passion and collection in the form of a museum.

“We’d been looking for probably nine months to a year at different locations,” said Craig Swenson.

The couple was even looking at places in other states, but when the building in Baraboo not far from their home off of Highway 33 came up for sale, they jumped on it. The location near the state park, which attracts thousands of hikers, bikers and conservation-minded people every season, is ideal, they said.

“What I really want to do is get the word out about the art and the conservation,” said Nichol Swenson.

During the month of August, the museum is featuring a special exhibit of the original artwork submitted for the Federal Duck Stamp and Federal Junior Duck Stamp programs.

The Federal Duck Stamp Program, which began in 1934 featuring the work of Iowa political cartoonist J.N. Ding Darling, generates money for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. About 98 cents of every dollar spent on the postage stamps goes to purchase wildlife habitat and wetlands for the National Wildlife Refuge System, according to a pamphlet traveling with the exhibit.

“They are just so amazing,” Nichol Swenson said of the pieces of art.

She requested the traveling display from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The junior artwork features the top winner from each state, and the exhibit also contains stunning examples of adult finalists’ work.

The stamp program represents the long commitment of hunters and sportsmen to giving back to conservation causes, said Craig Swenson.

“Many conservation projects at the state and at the federal level both are supported through the sportsmen’ dollars and the duck stamp monies that are collected through each state and through the federal stamp,” he said.

The exhibit will remain in the gift shop throughout the month of August. Admission to that display is free.

“We really encourage people to come out and look at it because it is so beautiful,” said Nichol Swenson.

In the museum itself, the Swensons have created a variety of exhibits ranging from waterfowl taxonomy to the history of the stamp program, decoys and calls, including an extensive collection furnished by Rick Swenson.

Taxidermist Ken White of Montello did the work on more than 60 bird mounts, which represent a good variety of the species that migrate through the Mississippi Flyway, said Craig Swenson.

“He’s the duck hunter,” Nichol Swenson said, gesturing to her husband. “He supplied all the mounts.”

She works part time for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center and wrote and designed all of the museum exhibits, learning graphic design in the process. The process took years, and the resulting displays, Duck Blind Theater and interactive touchscreen stations represent a deep affinity for wetlands and the birds that inhabit them.

Visitors also can peruse the gift shop and try their hand at shooting virtual ducks in a laser arcade.

“We wanted to touch on as many things as we could,” said Craig Swenson.

The museum, open every day but Tuesday, will remain operational until Dec. 15. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Hours may vary starting in mid-September.

For more information, visit or call 356-0084.

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