After a hearty welcome from David Althouse, chairman of the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce, the chamber honored Dan Kunkle as the 2010 Citizen of the Year during its annual dinner Monday at the Mahoning Valley Country Club. Jack Sturm, board member, served as master of ceremonies.

Presenting the award was Elissa Thorne of the Delaware and Lehigh Cooridor Commission. Thorne said that Kunkle is the person responsible for the turnaround of the bare landscape of the mountainside behind the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, into growing of grasses and trees. The center is located at the intersection of Lehigh and Carbon counties.

Thorne said that the 750-acre Lehigh Gap Nature Center is an environmental rags-to-riches story and that she was pleased to be commending Kunkle for his commitment and dedication.

In 2004, Kunkle left his teaching position at Bethlehem's Freedom High School to become the volunteer director of the Wildlife Information Center, now known as the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Kunkle taught biological sciences at Freedom for 28 years, serving as science department chairperson from 1976 to 2004. He holds a B.S. in secondary education/biology and a M.S. in biology from Kutztown University.

Kunkle became the volunteer executive director of the Wildlife Information Center in 1998 after serving on the center's board for eight years.

In 2002, he initiated the Lehigh Gap Restoration Project in which the center purchased 750 acres on the Kittatinny Ridge near Palmerton. In addition to helping to transform a barren, moonlike mountain into an abundant grassland habitat, a community nature and environmental education center was dedicated on the site earlier this year.

Kunkle's retirement from teaching allowed him to focus full-time on areas that were degraded by pollution from the zinc smelters in Palmerton and the success has been remarkable.

Blighted by pollution from a nearby zinc smelting industry for more than 60 years and designated a Superfund site in 1983, the mountainside wildlife refuge is undergoing an ecological restoration that is unprecedented in the eastern United States.

Experimental mixes of deep-rooted, warm-season grasses have laid a foundation for the return of other plants and wildlife. The reclamation of Lehigh Gap Nature Center has been so accelerated and successful that it has become a regular study site for regional colleges and universities.

Kunkle said that Moravian College, Lehigh University, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University are now studying the area because, "it has become the biggest environmental news story of the country."

LGNC has received much recognition, including a coveted Cooperative Conservation Award presented by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2005.

Kunkle resides in Franklin Township with his wife Cheryl and is an active member of Zion United Church of Christ.

Kunkle said, "Thank you for honoring me this way. I'm accepting the award on behalf of a lot of people. D and L and a lot of other volunteers, along with the support of my wife, made this happen."

Presented the "Distinguished Community Service Award" by Jim Thorpe Council President Bart Springer was Jane Kohler.

According to Springer, Kohler has provided thousands of visitors to the Jim Thorpe area with information about the four-county Pocono Mountains Region. She goes above and beyond her job duties to ensure that visitors to the region have an extraordinarily memorable experience.

Because of her dedication to exemplary customer service, Kohler was recently honored by the PMVB with a gold pin. This gold pin signifies that Kohler is a Pocono Mountains ambassador who routinely goes above and beyond the call of duty.

"In Jim Thorpe, we rely on Jane," said Springer. "She is not only a special person, she is our special angel. Thank you for all you do."

Kohler said, "I usually have a lot to say, but tonight I am at a loss for words." She added that she enjoys working in beautiful Jim Thorpe, the most beautiful town in Pennsylvania and sharing the beauty with the many tourists."

Honored by the Palmerton Council as the Citizen of the Year was the Exchange Club of Palmerton.

Presenting the award to Anna Strohl, Palmerton Exchange Club President, was Palmerton Council President Peter Kern.

Kern said that the Exchange Club of Palmerton was chartered by the National Exchange Club in 1946 as one of 700 organizations that share a common mission to work to make our communities better places in which to live.

Through the years, the Exchange Club has provided invaluable assistance to the local library, to recreational groups, and to such community projects as the restoration of the Palmerton bandstand.

Its proudest achievement continues to be the annual award of scholarship grants to worthy students as part of its Service to Youth program. In 2011 the National Exchange Club will celebrate the 100th anniversary.

"Thank you for this honor," said Strohl. "We will continue to serve the community."

Also as part of the annual meeting, the chamber adopted new bylaws to improve chamber voting issues and viewed a presentation of the new website by Dan Hugos.

Hugos said that the new website is easy to use for both businesses wanting to enhance their business and for tourists to find information they need.

He said that businesses will be able to make updates, add photographs and blogs in an easy, efficient manner.

The new website address is carboncountypa.org.

Hugo also added that the Chamber has new logos.