Bald Eagle

‘It’s going to be worth it.’ How Wildlife for Everyone is making nature accessible in Centre County

The Wildlife for Everyone Foundation is sticking to its name and is one step closer to creating an accessible boardwalk path and fishing pier at the Tom Ridge Wetlands Preserve — the first of its kind in Centre County.

After a year of rain delays, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is nearly complete with its restoration of 600 feet of Bald Eagle Creek. This “long-awaited project” began in 2016, and Wildlife for Everyone Executive Director Susan Hawthorne said the restoration work will kick-start the project’s first phase which includes the construction of a one-mile ADA-accessible walking trail, observation areas, an accessible fishing platform and educational pavilion.

The Fish and Wildlife Service began work last week and expects to finish this week with work about 80% complete on Thursday, said Mark Roberts, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist.

“We’ve got good crews, good operators, good partners and good weather,” Roberts told members of the media on a tour of the site Thursday. “... The rain started in July and never stopped.”

Jerry Regan and Mark Roberts chat about the new mud sill structure along the Bald Eagle Creek in Huston Township on Thursday, July 25, 2019. Abby Drey

Once crews were able to transport heavy equipment to the site, they constructed a mud-sill bank that prevents erosion and allows for a better fish habitat, Roberts said.

The overall project will create access to nature, correct bank erosion and offer a better fish habitat thus creating more recreational opportunities, Roberts said.

“Our end vision is to create a fully accessible area that anybody can use,” said Jerry Regan, Wildlife for Everyone board member and chairman of the Bale Eagle Creek project. “The real vision is to create a trail and a connection for nature that everybody can enjoy.”

The ADA-accessible boardwalk path and fishing pier is the first of its kind in Centre County, Hawthorne said. In addition to the path, an access route will be build from the parking lot which will grant access to the boardwalk.

The new mud sill structure along the Bald Eagle Creek on Thursday, July 25, 2019. This section of creek restoration will help the Wildlife for Everyone’s goal of making an ADA-accessible fishing pier. Abby Drey

“We shouldn’t stop being in nature because of physical limitations or aging, and we know that nature is restorative,” Hawthorne said.

With proper permits and zoning regulations, parts of the first phase are expected to be open by 2021, but the entire $561,250 project is estimated to be finished by 2022. The Wildlife for Everyone Foundation used private funds, donations and grants from the Department of Community and Economic Development to fund construction.

Hawthorne said community members are already coming to the site to bird-watch and fish, but the final result will be accessible to everyone of all ages and abilities.

“It’s going to be worth it,” Hawthorne said. “Nature meets you where you are ... it has lasting effects. Science proves that. This should be a prescription for everyone.”

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.