The Wildlife for Everyone Endowment Foundation announced at the Centre County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday plans to construct a wildlife center at the Gov. Tom Ridge Wetlands Preserve in Huston Township.
Jerry Regan, president of WFEEF, presented the project plans to the board, which include an accessible raised boardwalk, outdoor classroom and wildlife observation stands.
“We’re delighted to be a part of one of the most beautiful counties in the state,” Regan said. “We put a team together to create an access for people to connect with nature.”
The 135-acre wetland preserve, located along state Route 220 between Julian and Martha Furnace, was protected in 2002 by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation during the construction of Interstate 99. PennDOT entrusted the land to the WHM Group, an environmental solutions company with an office in State College. After the dedication of the preserve in the name of the former governor, WHM donated the land to WFEEF in 2011.
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WFEEF is a nonprofit organization established to conserve birds and mammals in the state, and has been involved in Centre County for more than 10 years, according to Regan.
The foundation recently helped with the Colyer Lake rehabilitation project, Scotia Range rifle range repairs and numerous stream restoration projects throughout the county. The Tom Ridge Wetland project is the most ambitious work the foundation has planned in the county, but because of the success of a similar project he oversaw as president of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Berks County, Regan said he believes the local response will be positive.
The fully accessible trail at Hawk Mountain offers visitors a pathway to a lookout point with bench seating every 100 feet along the way. The trail was named last month as the nation’s best accessible trail by American Trails.
“It was one of the most important projects I’ve been involved in, which I didn’t know at the time,” Regan said. “I had little idea what an impact an accessible trail would have.”
The foundation will complete the Tom Ridge wetlands project in two phases. The first phase will feature construction of a half-mile raised boardwalk that will wind through the wetlands to the Bald Eagle Creek.
An outdoor classroom will be constructed along with public bathrooms. Wildlife observation decks will be added along with an additional half-mile of raised boardwalk.
Regan said the foundation will begin fundraising in September and expects to complete construction in late 2018.