Families enjoy Shaver’s Creek before it closes for renovations

The Boland and O’Neill family have a picnic at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center on Monday in Petersburg.
The Boland and O’Neill family have a picnic at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center on Monday in Petersburg. psheehan@centredaily.com

Within the woodlands of Petersburg, the sounds of songbirds are punctuated by the louder calls of some impressive predators.

Eagles, hawks and owls add their voices to the forests surrounding Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center for the time being. But these birds won’t be available to the public for long — the center is expecting to close for a good portion of 2017 due to renovation and construction.

Originally slated to start Monday, construction on the environmental center is scheduled to begin at the end of September, educator Torri Withrow said this past weekend. According to Penn State, this is the first major expansion and upgrade to the center in its 40-year history.

The capacity of the current facility is “overwhelmed” by the success of the programming offered at the center, the center’s website said. When the current building was constructed, it was designed for group functions and warm-weather construction.

Now, the website said, year-round and seasonal staff members have reached more than 30, with many housed in temporary buildings. The structure is now “crowded and inadequate, with current instructors teaching a maximum load of more than 35 classes for six colleges and nine departments.

“There is no physical space to add new staff and meet the demand of our partner colleges, to continue to grow our credit offering,” the website said.

Shaver’s Creek serves more than 60,000 people a year, a Penn State news release said, which includes more than 1,300 Penn State students and about 9,000 visitors a year.

Construction on the environmental center will include many new improvements, the center’s site said, including 3,200 square feet of new classroom space, expanded exhibit room space, additional space for staff and animals and improved parking and footpaths while retaining the aesthetics of the center’s original 1938 stone and wood exterior.

Some of the birds will be relocated during construction, Withrow said, especially once work on the raptor center office begins. The birds will be monitored for stress during construction and relocated if needed.

During the second phase of construction, the raptor houses themselves will be rebuilt, she said, facing more to the south so the birds can get more sun during the winter.

“Thankfully now, we still have weekends, at least Saturdays,” she said.

Several members of the public, including families with children, could be found at the center on Labor Day getting a close-up experience with the birds.

Lake Perez and the trails surrounding Shaver’s Creek will remain open throughout the construction, Withrow said, as those areas are operated by Stone Valley and are separate from the center. The trails leading to Shaver’s Creek will be closed, however.

The environmental center will host a community picnic Sept. 23, she said, featuring live music and staff discussing the center’s future and how the public can help with fundraising efforts. Donation opportunities can be found through the center’s website at www.shaverscreek.org.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews