July 27, 2008

Quecreek Site Center Work Begins

By Richard Robbins, Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

Jul. 27--A new visitors center is going up at the site of the Quecreek Mine rescue in Somerset County in an act of faith nearly as audacious as the July 2002 rescue itself.

With $92,000 in the treasury, leaders of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation are more than $100,000 short of the money they need to make the center a reality.

Bill Arnold, who owns the land in Somerset County where the 77-hour struggle to save the lives of nine trapped miners took place, said at a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday that he has no doubt the job will get done.

David Hess, the former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection who serves on the foundation board, declared he was "absolutely confident the money can be raised."

"I think Bill has the right idea," he added.

Arnold said the 2,400-square-foot "world class" museum will house rescue artifacts, including the yellow cage that brought the nine miners to the surface of the earth after more than three days underground.

In addition, Arnold said he hopes the museum will relate the history of underground coal mining in western Pennsylvania and the United States.

He said he has held discussions with museum designers whom he hopes to persuade to get involved.

Arnold said he hopes that businesses and individuals will make donations to the visitors center construction. The building, when it is complete, will stand less than 100 feet from where rescue personnel drilled several shafts to get to the miners, who were trapped by a wall of water that pushed them into a dry pocket of the mine.

The rescue operation was seen around the clock on national television.

Since then, thousands of people have visited the Arnold farm location.

Hess said "formalizing" visitation to the site should attract even more people.

"It was a profound experience," he said. "It will be nice when more people can be accommodated."

Until the building opens, visitors will continue to get an insight into the rescue at a make-shift center housed in a building on the Arnold farm.

Arnold said one goal is to have the building "under roof" by the time cold weather sets in. He indicated another goal is to open a fully functioning museum this time next year.

"We're not reaching for the stars," said Arnold, adding "there is no such thing as a small gift."

On hand yesterday was a group of 10 Amish workers from northeastern Ohio who were busy putting up Styrofoam walls that eventually will be covered with concrete.

The Amish were donating their time and labor.

One of the workers, Alvin Hersberger, said the Amish men and boys were from a single church community in Ohio.

"It's not really hard work," Hersberger said. "It's just a little warm."

After a ribbon-cutting, some of those attending the ceremony formed a line and helped pass the walls down the hillside to the workers.

Arnold said "hundreds" of artifacts will be available for display at the center. More than 10,000 people annually visit the site.


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