September 29, 2008
Work Begins on Elk Country Visitor Center
Pictured from left to right: Joseph Treadway (Ashville, NC), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation board of directors, Rod Triepke (Missoula MT), RMEF chief operations officer, Ken Rowe (Benezette, PA), Elk Country Business Owners Association president, Rep. Dan Surra , D-Elk and Clearfield Counties, Legislative District 75, Mike DiBerardinis, secretary of Department. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Sue Meehl, (Northeast, PA), RMEF volunteer state chairperson, Rodger Fleming (Butler, PA), past RMEF board of directors and current RMEF Canada board of directors (standing in for Terry Bryant of Wellsboro, RMEF board of directors), Dillion Shields, student, St. Marys Middle School, Helping Hands for Habitat Club president.
BENEZETTE TOWNSHIP, Pa.—Construction has begun on a new Elk Country Visitor Center in north-central Pennsylvania. The facility, to be the largest elk watching and conservation education center in the eastern United States, is a public-private partnership between the commonwealth and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Sept. 25.
“We see this project as an opportunity to help people understand and appreciate elk and other wildlife, an opportunity to create more conservationists engaged in habitat stewardship and protection,” said David Allen, Elk Foundation president and CEO.
“It's incredibly exciting to see this vision for a key destination and world class opportunity in the Pennsylvania Wilds about to become a reality,” said Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Michael DiBerardinis. “Elk in the wild are an incredible sight. When we provide the opportunity at the center for people to have this tremendous outdoor experience, we are also instilling in them a sense of wonder and love of nature that will inspire them to become caretakers of our natural resources.”
DCNR has a 30-year partnership agreement with the Elk Foundation for construction and operation of an 8,400-square-foot “green” building that will include interpretive exhibits, wildlife trails, viewing blinds and parking for cars and buses.
Total costs for completion and 30-year operation of the center are $12 million.
Under the partnership agreement, the commonwealth is providing $5 million for design and construction of the center. The Elk Foundation is committing an estimated $5.6 million over 30 years for the operation of the facility. The land was acquired with a $1.4 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Other financial supporters of the Elk Country Visitor Center include the Dominion and Thoresen foundations, Safari Club International and many individual donors.
“This project would not have been possible without the tremendous dedication to conservation from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,” DiBerardinis said. “We thank them for their commitment and financial support.”
The location of the center is a 245-acre site in the Pennsylvania Wilds on Winslow Hill in Benezette Township, Elk County. The site is adjacent to Elk State Forest and State Game Lands 311.
The center will sit along the Elk Scenic Drive, a 127-mile corridor passing through Cameron, Clinton, Clearfield, Centre and Elk counties. Two state scenic byways—Route 144 and Route 120—are part of the drive, which takes travelers through three state forests and three state game lands. The drive runs along a spectacular loop between I-80’s Penfield Exit 111 and Snow Shoe Exit 147.
Green building features will include rainwater collection and reuse, night sky friendly light fixtures, use of locally available materials and sustainably harvested timber, and use of low emitting paints, adhesives and carpets. The building will be eligible for Gold LEED certification.
Visitors to the will be greeted by a stone fireplace, a great room with high ceilings supported by large wooden trusses. Interpretive features will include:
Exhibits, displays and educational programs are being designed by Imperial Multimedia of Wisconsin, Magic Lantern of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education of Kempton, Berks County.
Construction completion is projected for fall 2009.
The Pennsylvania Wilds regional strategy to encourage the growth of nature-based tourism in north-central Pennsylvania is being touted as a national model for mobilizing and coordinating the wide array of conservation, tourism promotion, economic development, and community revitalization interests.
Pennsylvania's wild elk herd, the largest in the Northeast, currently attracts more than 75,000 visitors to the Pennsylvania Wilds each fall. Attendance at the Elk Country Center is estimated to reach 160,000 visitors each year by 2016.