2018-07-01 / Features

Conservation Renovation

The new Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is almost complete, positioning the community resource for another 40 years (and more) of outdoor education.
Maggie Anderson | Photos by Matt Fern

After nearly two years and $7.5 million, the expansion of Penn State’s Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Petersburg is almost complete.

“We’re bursting at the seams to share this again,” says Jason Beale, program director of live animal care. “Shaver’s Creek’s commitment to the animal care program and to the well-being of our animals with these new facilities is a really exciting thing to be a part of.”

With summer camps resuming last month, the center will host a grand opening Labor Day weekend. But before then, we got a tour with Beale as our guide — here’s your preview of the new habitats and housings at the expanded and upgraded nature center.

“This is the Litzinger Discovery Room. Number one, we hope it’s going to be a more engaging experience for our visitors — obviously, the reason we have our animals is for education.” The new facility, which is built inside the original forestry camp building, also provides a state-of-the-art experience for students and interns who get their start at Shaver’s Creek.

“When people walk into the room, the first thing I want them to see are venomous snakes. The rattlesnake and the copperhead are two species here that call Central Pennsylvania home, as well as the non-venomous Eastern rat snake. Freeman Tilden, the father of interpretation for the National Parks, said the point of interpretation is to provoke, and venomous snakes — or snakes in general — usually get a strong reaction. Once you’ve got those people engaged, whether they’re coming from a place of negativity or positivity, we can maybe help to redefine the narrative of these snakes of Pennsylvania.”

“This turtle has been with us since 1989. One of the big beneficiaries of this exhibit are the aquatic turtles. Our groundwater is extraordinarily hard, and that creates a problem with their shells. We now have a reverse osmosis system, so we’ve now got much better water quality for them.”

“I think one of the great opportunities we have, whether it’s with our amphibians and reptiles or our raptors, is many people may not have seen these animals up close or they’ve heard secondhand stories. We can give them that first up-close-and-personal engagement and they realize, oh that rattlesnake’s not just sitting there rattling, or that snake’s not trying to bite me through the glass, or that golden eagle’s just sitting calmly on a perch… It allows us to show them a side that they may not have heard.”

“Many people are surprised that we have tree frogs in Pennsylvania. People think of them as a rainforest species, but, hey, our backyard has a lot of neat stuff worth exploring.”

“We tried to be very conscientious of maintaining the rusticness of the 1930s forestry camp knowing that we had to pull ourselves into the 21st century. The mix of wood — local wood sourced from Stone Valley Forest — and stone respects the past but looks toward the future.”

“It has more of a campus feel to it now. Being part of Penn State, this is the Penn State campus — it just happens to be the Penn State campus sitting out in the middle of a beautiful forest. We want to be available to Penn State students like it was for me when I was trying to figure out what to do with my career. It put me on that path.”

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