Shaver's Creek Environmental Center is in the final stretch of major renovations, with its grand reopening slated for Labor Day weekend.
"We're excited for our grand reopening event on Sept. 1 to welcome people back and show off ... the great changes and updates to the facility," said Joshua Potter, educational operations manager. He said it's been a "very strange" two years without the 8,000 to 10,000 annual drop-in visitors that the center is used to or its two annual festivals.
Penn State's nature center has been closed to the public since September 2016, and the first phase of construction is wrapped up — which included 8,000 square feet of administrative space, renovated exhibit space and a new classroom building that holds more than 100 people. The cost of those renovations is between $5.6 and $5.8 million, according to Potter.
The second phase of construction is underway now: 14 new enclosures for the center's 18 raptors — owls, falcons, buzzards, soaring hawks and eagles — and a new 800-square-foot classroom building. The expected budget for this phase is $1.6 million, Potter said.
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Shaver's Creek's summer day camps will be on-site this summer as a sort of "dry run" for the facility, Potter said. The next few months will also be a time to finish up the raptor enclosures and second classroom and add other finishing touches to the campus. Trails in Stone Valley Forest are still open, and Shaver's Creek does regular Meet the Creek programming, along with sending its traveling naturalists to events like Arts Fest and Ag Progress Days.
Shaver's Creek has had raptors at its facility since 1981, said Jason Beale, program director of live animal care. The raptors in its care are all non-releasable and have disabilities that prevent them from living in the wild.
"Pennsylvania both has a rich diversity of breeding raptors but also, because of our ridges, we have these migration superhighways for these birds that they use every spring and every fall," he said. "So we're always trying to tell the story about how they're interwoven into the fabric of our landscape, the role that they play in pest control, whether it's on farms consuming rodents, or just also the recreational opportunities they create."
And the resident raptors at Shaver's Creek can live a long time. For example, Beale said, a golden eagle or bald eagle in human care might live up to 50 years.
"It's quite a responsibility that we have to care for these animals during that long life and so one of the best things we can do is give them these new enclosures," he said.
The new enclosures will be much larger in size, receive more sunlight and be more sheltered from cold north winds, Beale said. They'll be constructed in a U-shape on a plaza layout, with the second classroom forming the anchor up on the hill behind the visitor's center.
The raptors will have more opportunity to express their natural behavior, and Beale said they want the raptors to be able to tell their stories to visitors.
Each has unique adaptations that allow them to survive and they express that in different ways, he said.
"We're looking forward to getting them ... to become the stars of the show again as we reopen," Beale said.