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Watch Out For the Nature

MK Nature Center vs. Fish & Game's HQ

What was once a serene corner of a city lot near the Boise River Greenbelt will soon be home to a new three-story building and a heckuva lot of asphalt. Unfortunately, that serene corner has a title and a following: The MK Nature Center, visited by 300,000 visitors annually, won't get plowed over when the Idaho Fish and Game rebuilds its Boise headquarters. But it won't be the same, either.

At a recent meeting in Coeur d'Alene, the Fish and Game Commission met to ratify a spendy space-saving proposal for their quirky HQ. Because the agency's approximately 150 employees are currently squashed into both the 1960s-era original headquarters at 600 South Walnut Street and sprawled into rented space across the street, they've long been pining for better living quarters.

Unfortunately, their dream home is awfully close to the current home for the MK Nature Center, which was built in 1990 along Boise's Green Belt with funds from Morrison Knudsen Corporation (hence the name) and others. Some volunteers and fans of the center worry that plunking a three-story headquarters up against the center will take away from its appeal.

"The Nature Center is kind of an oasis in the city," said Cheryl Minckler, a volunteer at the center. "You forget you're in the city when you're in there."

But Steve Barton, assistant to the director of Fish and Game Department, said nature lovers needn't worry.

"As far as I know, there won't be any impact on the nature center," Barton said. That's not what Minckler thinks: She's pretty sure the new building will squash gardens built by staff and volunteers on the site.

The new building, Barton said, will likely cost about $10 million to build, and the tab will go to the Idaho Wildlife Foundation. A request for proposals, as well as an application to the City of Boise, have already gone out for review. The approximate 80,000 square feet of offices, meeting rooms and classrooms, Barton said, will be welcome to an agency that has precious little space for its employees or the public.

When the Fish and Game notified neighbors of the area about the proposal, they drew about a half-dozen takers at a public meeting, he said. No one voiced opposition then, he said.