EDGEFIELD, S.C. (AP) — The Winchester Museum in Edgefield has for decades celebrated the wild turkey and its preservation, but the collections there are soon to be packed up, shipped out and installed at the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, whose collection is at the Winchester, announced the news first in an email to members and then publicly on Sept. 27.
“There are so many stories there. There’s so much information there to tell about the wild turkey restoration,” federation spokesperson Pete Muller said.
The federation will also close its warehouse here, outsourcing its merchandise fulfillment and shipping to a third-party, and move its headquarters from the current museum location on Augusta Road in Edgefield to a new location (as yet unknown) in the area.
No definite timeline has yet been set for any of the changes. Muller said that even the shipment of collections to the museum in Springfield is still being finalized and that talks are ongoing with Johnny Morris, that museum’s founder and also CEO of Bass Pro Shops.
In one way, it will be like the collections are going home: Morris had contributed to the Winchester’s exhibits and has been described as a “longtime friend” of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Such a move to Springfield will greatly expand the collections’ exposure. Muller estimated the Winchester Museum’s “pre-pandemic peak” at 10,000 visitors a year… versus the 1 million annual patrons who flock to Morris’ museum.
The decisions around the Winchester Museum, the warehouse and the headquarters location were made by the federation’s board of directors this August as part of a strategic facilities plan that Muller said would enable the organization to better focus on its main purpose of conservation and to remain a viable institution for another 50 years.
“We’re not looking to abandon Edgefield,” assured Muller. “There isn’t going to be a loss of headquarters. There’s just going to be the idea of moving to something that better fits what we’re promoting, which is wildlife conservation and habitat enhancements.”
The federation as recently as 2015 was still investing heavily in its physical presence here in Edgefield, pouring $18 million into the development and construction of the Palmetto Shooting Complex as well as the main campus’ Hunting Heritage Center and Outdoor Education Center.
But the federation began tightening its capital outlay in 2017 when Becky Humphries first came to the helm as the organization’s new chief executive officer.
That summer, the National Wild Turkey Federation, closed its Turkey Shoppe on Main, a retail outlet for surplus merchandise, and laid off 17 employees.
The reasoning then (“We are financially sound, and the intent was to keep us sound,” Humphries had told the Aiken Standard ) was the same as it is now, assured Muller: the new changes are happening as part of a “forward-thinking” plan. Not because “they have to,” he said, but so as “to thrive for an additional 50 years.”
“We’re trying to position the organization to withstand any future things that come up,” said Muller.
The changes this time also won’t cause any loss of jobs, he said – the federation simply doesn’t need all that square footage for what has become a largely remote workforce. “Right now, we have a building that is being utilized by very few of our workforce,” said Muller.
The National Wild Turkey Federation is also only using a “fraction” of the space at its local warehouse compared to what it had needed a decade ago, according to the email sent out to members.
More efficient merchandising among the the organization’s chapters and the option to tailor merchandise to a particular event by turning directly to preferred vendors has greatly reduced that reliance on in-house warehousing, co-CEO Jason Burckhalter explained.
“By moving to a third-party vendor for shipping and warehousing, we can further capitalize on merchandise options, (and) efficiencies and provide the most cost-effective solution to our chapters,” he said.
Warehouse employees “will be offered other available positions within the National Wild Turkey Federation or severance packages as we phase out warehouse operations in Edgefield over the next year,” the member email reads.
Eventually, the warehouse and its adjoining land will be put on the market.
Muller said that property sales, for either the warehouse or the headquarters, would not take place until after the museum collections are safely installed in their new home. Proceeds from the sales will also be reinvested in the organization nationwide.
Muller also confirmed that the federation would retain ownership of its 300-acre Palmetto Shooting Complex, a key aspect of the the organization’s footprint here and part of a total 700 acres that includes hiking trails and an outdoor education center.
But, Muller added, “whether or not the remaining 400 acres (adjacent to the Shooting Complex) stays a part of things, that will be determinate on when the time comes to market headquarters, whether or not that will make it more attractive to potential buyers.”
Relinquishing the existing “Wild Turkey Center” and its nearby warehouse could bring in new businesses to Edgefield that can better utilize the space, said Muller.
Tiffani Ireland, Edgefield County Council member for District 2, said that she, too, is confident that once the properties are on the market that they’ll be scooped up by someone else who will add to the economic engine of the Edgefield.
“This is a loss, but I do believe that our Economic Development Partnership will be working diligently to find another business to setup shop here,” she said. The federations’ “campus is absolutely beautiful, and Edgefield – the town and the county – has so much to offer potential businesses.”