MISSOULA, Mont.—With construction well underway and a grand opening scheduled for summer 2010, a planned state-of-the-art conservation education facility is now wholly owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) following a transfer from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The 7,000 square-foot Elk Country Visitor Center will sit on a 245-acre site in Benezette Township, Elk County. When completed, it will be the largest elk watching and conservation education facility in the eastern U.S.
The project began as a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth and RMEF. The Elk Foundation conveyed its share of the facility to DCNR on Sept. 15.
“The Elk Foundation has been a great partner in open-space protection and restoring the elk herd in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and we thank them for their help getting the Elk Center project off the ground. This project would not have been possible without their early partnership with DCNR,” said John Quigley, acting secretary of DCNR.
RMEF landed major support for the project from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Dominion Foundation, Thoreson Foundation, Safari Club International, Eastern Chapter Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and many individual donors.
Additionally, Elk Foundation chapters across the country made special contributions toward the new facility.
“As it turns out, this project worked much like a land protection project—we facilitate and fundraise, then transfer the asset to a public agency that is better equipped to manage in perpetuity. We’ve never applied this model to a conservation education facility before but we’re pleased with the outcome,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO.
Going forward, RMEF will help promote the Elk Country Visitor Center and use it for special conservation and education events.
As RMEF conveyed its share of the visitor center, DCNR announced a new partnership with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF).
Allen said, “We’re confident that this important project is in good hands and that the new partnership is well positioned to help this landmark facility accomplish its goals.”
Marci Mowery, PPFF president, said, “The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation appreciates the work that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has done to restore elk habitat and educate the public about elk. We look forward to working with the DCNR through the Elk Country Visitor Center to reach out to new visitors, give them a wonderful outdoor experience and share the story of the conservation efforts that have restored many of the natural and wild areas in Pennsylvania.”
Allen said Elk Foundation volunteers tackled fundraising for this project with the same gusto that annually supports traditional RMEF projects. Since 1984, RMEF and its partners have spent $14.4 million to complete 199 conservation and education projects that have protected or enhanced more than 14,800 acres of wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania.
DCNR will erect a bronze elk statue, acquired through the efforts of the Pittsburgh RMEF chapter, dedicated to the passion of all Elk Foundation volunteers.
The center also will include educational exhibits, trails, story theater, wildlife viewing blinds, meeting rooms and display areas.
Allen said the Elk Foundation remains focused on its core mission of habitat conservation for elk and other wildlife.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.