Dennis Brauchle, his brother Joe and I had the opportunity to attend the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Pennsylvania Wilds Elk Country Visitors Center. The day was an amazing experience for all three of us. From the drive through some of the Pennsylvania Wilds to the wonderful ceremony and the chance to see wild elk . We saw a nice spike bull and then about an hour later after a wonderful dinner and camaraderie with some of the nicest people in the world we watched a herd bull move his cows and calves along the timberline. I know that tickers were beating fast on all of us that got to watch that majestic bull bugle and herd his cows closer and then into the timber when he saw the crowd of a couple of hundred people.
Pennsylvania Elk have been flourishing for many years and the town of Benezette, PA has been a destination stop for folks throughout the North East. It is the number one destination for folks wanting to see elk in the wild and up until and through next year there will only be some sign boards and pull outs off of Winslow Hill Road where almost every evening visitors can have the opportunity to visit and watch elk in the wild. Over 75,000 tourist days a year are logged in the Pennsylvania Wilds with folks looking to view the wild elk. They are not always easy to find but they are there and this wonderful day was no exception.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation working in conjunction with many other organizations like the State of Pennsylvania, Local County and City governments, Safari Club International, Dominion Power, Richard King Mellon, The Thoreson Foundation and countless individuals who have donated time, effort and funding to make this dream come true.
The Pennsylvania Wilds Elk Country Visitor Center is going to be a one of a kind classroom and exhibition center nestled in the woods on the current Elk Mountain Homestead Property off of Winslow Hill Road. The property abounds with elk and the center will have unique windows and viewing areas where the elk will be able to be watched from inside without disturbing them in the wild.
DCNR has a 30-year partnership agreement with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for construction and operation of the 8,400-square-foot green building that will include interpretive exhibits, wildlife trails, viewing blinds and parking for all of the visitors and this will include cars and buses. Green building features will include rainwater collection and reuse; night sky friendly light fixtures; use of locally available materials and sustainably harvested timber; and low emitting paints, adhesives and carpets. The building will be eligible for Gold LEED certification.
“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,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinas said. “Elk in the wild are an incredible sight. When we provide the opportunity at teh 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.”
“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, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO.
Visitors to the Center will be greeted by a stone fireplace, a great room with high ceilings supported by large wooden trusses. Interpretive features will include:
- A panorama of windows looking out on elk viewing areas and forage plots.
- A Story Theatre presenting a multimedia experience complete with fiber optic star ceiling, a “smoking” campfire and special effects to immerse the visitor in the sights, sounds and smells of a mixed hardwood forest, the natural world of elk and native wildlife and the cultural heritage of the region.
- State of the art interpretive and interactive exhibits that inform and educate the public about elk and wildlife conservation and green building design.
- Meeting space to support schools and other programming; display space to show case work of local artisans; and a country store/gift shop.
- Exhibits, displays and educational programs are being designed by Imperial Multimedia of Wisconsin, Magic Lantern of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education of Kempton, Berks County.
I for one cannot wait to see this project complete and while the visitors center is a long drive from my home here in Fredericksburg, VA, it will be a trip that I will make with excitement and enthusiasm. Sitting on the mountain on Thursday night after Dennis and Joe headed home and the cars peeled off of the mountain, I sat there leaning against the hood of my truck and listened to 9 separate bulls all the way around me and in the valley below me and I smiled, proud to know that I was a life member of the RMEF and happy to know that I will be back to this same mountain with my family. This should be a proud day for any member of the RMEF and all of its wonderful volunteers.