Elk Country Visitor Center Gears up for Peak Season, New Exhibits in Place
DCNR Secretary Visits Center, Gets Update on Successes in the Pennsylvania Wilds
BENEZETTE, Elk County, Pa., Aug. 24, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Richard J. Allan today visited the Elk Country Visitor Center in Elk County to preview the upcoming elk-viewing season and see the center’s new exhibits.
He also met the leadership of DCNR’s partner the Keystone Elk Country Alliance and learned about the economic impact and potential of both public and private investments in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
“I wanted to see and hear about the tremendous success we are experiencing at the Elk Country Visitor Center, including a phenomenal number of visitors from all over the world, and the increased amount of economic activity this world-class destination is bringing to this region,” Allan said. “This is one of our shining examples that conserving and promoting our natural resources are important not only for protecting habitat and providing outdoor experiences, but also as a way to make local economies vibrant.”
The Elk Country Visitor Center, first opened in September 2010, is nestled on 245-acres owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Benezette. It includes a 4D story theater; interactive interpretive exhibits; wildlife trails and viewing areas; wagon rides; year-round restrooms; and parking for cars, RVs and buses.
In 2009, DCNR partnered with the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance, a Pennsylvania-based wildlife conservation organization, whose mission is to conserve and enhance Pennsylvania’s elk country for future generations; raise private funds for the project; assist in the development of the interactive displays; and conduct the day-to-day operations of the center.
“This private-public partnership between DCNR and KECA is an exceptional example of how government and the private sector can work together to create a wonderful conservation education facility and improve opportunities for local and regional business owners,” Allan said.
Fall is the peak season for viewing elk in the Pennsylvania Wilds because the mating season, or ‘rut,’ occurs, and bugling bulls can be heard throughout elk country.
New exhibits for the season include:
- “Bugle Like an Elk.” This exhibit allows visitors to see how close they can come to replicating the sound of an elk during the mating season.
- “Discovery Room.” Located just adjacent to the Great Room, this room now offers more hands-on activities about elk and other wildlife in the Pennsylvania Wilds, as well as a close look at the work of wildlife biologists and conservationists in the field, laboratory and community.
Web cameras provide a glimpse of fields and wildlife beyond the viewing range of the center, and wildlife watching trails and viewing areas provide closer encounters for more-adventurous visitors.
KECA employs nine local residents at the center. In addition to operating the center, it helps to develop and maintain wildlife forage plans to attract elk and other wildlife for public viewing.
“KECA applauds DCNR for its novel thinking in developing this private public partnership,” said KECA President and CEO Rawley Cogan. “We work every day through educational programming developed cooperatively between KECA and DCNR to present a clear and consistent conservation education message to thousands of visitors travelling to Pennsylvania’s elk country. Our guests also understand that all of the funds generated by the alliance remain here in Pennsylvania to support our wildlife resources and to ensure that this extraordinary facility is self-sustaining.”
For September and October, the grounds at the center are open dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Early morning and twilight are the best times to spot elk. The center itself is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The commonwealth invested $6 million to build the center with another $6 million from private donations.
The center — and the larger Pennsylvania Wilds effort to develop sustainable nature and heritage tourism in the area — has had a positive local economic impact. Between 2005 and 2010 the number of businesses offering overnight lodging in the Benezette-Weedville area has more than doubled — from seven to 16, according to Pennsylvania Wilds Small Business Ombudsman Ta Brant.
“The North Central Regional Planning and Development Commission serving the counties nearby has processed more than $2 million in tourism loans for start-ups and expansions of restaurants, lodges, wineries, outfitters, golf courses and the like, creating 177 jobs since 2006,” Brant said.
A majority of the loans were initiated through the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s First Industries program, a tourism loan fund administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development. All told, since 2004 DCED has invested more than $5.5 million in First Industries monies in tourism businesses across the entire region, creating 275 jobs.
“This is really incredible for such a remote area,” Brant said.
In many cases, the elk center itself is having a direct impact on businesses.
“KECA and DCNR have worked hard to cultivate local artisans and vendors for the elk center’s gift shop, and to pass the center’s robust foot traffic to area businesses,” Brant said. “Business owners have shown me ‘before’ and ‘after’ business data related to the elk center opening and the growth at some places has just been incredible. One vendor told me last week the center was ‘a life changer’ for his business. Tourism businesses in three counties around the elk center have even started meeting quarterly to network and find more ways to pass foot traffic among each other. This is all great stuff that’s helping diversify our rural economy.”
Brant works directly with communities and small tourism businesses in the region, helping them find answers and resources to grow and ways to tie into the larger Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative. She also works closely with the many stakeholders involved in growing the nature and heritage tourism industry in the 12-1/2 county Pennsylvania Wilds region. DCNR, DCED, and the Appalachian Regional Commission have all helped fund the ombudsman position since it was created in 2008.
For more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center, visit www.ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com or call 814-787-5167.
Media contact: Christina Novak, 717-772-9101.
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources