HARRISBURG – The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is partnering with the Keystone Elk Country Alliance to operate the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette Township, Elk County, said DCNR Secretary John Quigley . The center, a key part of the Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, is slated to open this fall.
“The Keystone Elk Country Alliance is a dynamic new organization that will operate the new Elk Country Visitor Center, the largest elk watching and conservation education facility in the eastern United States,” Quigley said.
As a non-profit wildlife conservation organization, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, or KECA, will focus its resources on Pennsylvania’s elk herd in the north central region of the state. Many of the board, staff and volunteers have numerous years of experience raising private dollars to enhance elk country.
The 8,420-square-foot center will attempt Gold LEED certification, and includes
interpretive exhibits, wildlife trails and viewing blinds, year-round restrooms and parking for cars and buses.
The commonwealth is providing $6 million for construction of the center. Doors are expected to open to visitors in mid-September and a grand opening is planned for October.
In September 2009, DCNR entered an agreement with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation to help the department complete the Elk Center after an initial partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was concluded.
“We appreciate PPFF’s willingness to step in and ensure that the center could be completed in the original time frame,” Quigley said. “It’s a true reflection of the foundation’s commitment to support a shared goal of conservation and connecting people to nature through terrific outdoor experiences.”
“With construction nearing completion, it was clear that DCNR was in need of a new partner to operate the center,” KECA Chairman of the Board John Geissler said. “In December 2009, our organization was created for that purpose. The best part of this effort may be that all the funds we raise in Pennsylvania will remain right here in Pennsylvania’s elk range and at the Elk Center.
“Another great boost to our cause happened the day Rawley Cogan agreed to serve as President and CEO of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance,” Geissler said. “Rawley is a wildlife biologist noted for his work with Pennsylvania elk and their reintroduction into the wild landscape. Rawley played an integral part in the land acquisition and planning of the Elk Mountain Homestead and Elk Country Visitor Center from its inception.”
“I am honored to have been chosen to be the first President and CEO of the new Keystone Elk Country Alliance,” Cogan said. “As we move forward, the alliance will focus its resources in three areas — conservation education, habitat enhancement and permanent land protection.
“Our intention for this world-class facility is to provide a safe and rewarding elk-watching experience and engage visitors in educational exhibits that will further their understanding of elk and their natural habitat,” Cogan added.
KECA also will operate the Elk Mountain Homestead on the 245-acre center property.
The center will have a variety of interactive displays about elk, birds and trees. Look for a life-sized natural history display in the center’s great room portraying the interconnection of animals to their environment. Visitors also can watch real time video of the elk range on screens in the center to see the wildlife that wanders into view.
The Richard King Mellon, Dominion, and Thoreson foundations; Safari Club International; Eastern Chapter Foundation for North American Wild Sheep; Grice Gun Shop; and many individual donors made contributions for the center.
For more information about KECA, visit www.ExperienceElkCountry.com. Visit the KECA website for more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center, or visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us, and choose “Elk Country Visitor Center” under “Quick Links.”