A reception was held with tables of food and beverages outside on the porch of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center on July 16 for the grand opening of its visitor-education building. Chairs were filled in the "great room." The walls were lined with people and the hallway was crowded.
Bob Hoopes, as master of ceremonies and a board member, gave an overview of the center. Members of the board were recognized: Michal Kubik, Ronald Kline, Kathy Romano, George Beam, Fritz Brock, Anita Collins, Jeff Frantz, Geryl Gritz, Diane Husic, Bill Mineo, Grant White and director Dan Kunkle.
"Without the teamwork and vision this building would not be here and we could not have saved the 750 acres as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge. How we got here began in 2001," he said. Three goals were set secure the land, revegetate it and open the refuge for public access and passive recreation. A master site plan was drawn up.
The mission became "to preserve wildlife and habitat through conservation, education, and research for the benefit of the earth and its inhabitants." He said they believe in the power of the citizen activist and wisdom of the citizen scientist.
The master site plan is being revised to incorporate the possibilities opened by the new building. It has an expanded research library, a laboratory to train young minds and office space.
The new building is green by design with geothermal heating and cooling, compact fluorescent and LED lights that turn off automatically when a room is not in use, paints and finishes with few volatile compounds, insulated concrete forms on the lower level, cement-board siding, Trex decking, and carpeting with a high percentage of recycled fiber.
Local materials used were slate from Penn Big Bed quarry, native stone and plants in the gardens and compost from Lehigh County.
The main use will be supporting our current and future education programs, said Hoopes.
Michael Jonn was the architect and Alvin Butz the construction manager. Lee Butz said he wanted it to succeed even if his company did not get the manager's bid.
PPL was the first major corporate contributor. Financial help was received from the Trexler Trust which supported the center over the years to a total of $239,000.
Malcolm Gross from the Trust said they had truly resurrected the environment. They told Director Dan Kunkle to "go for it," because they liked his honesty and common sense.
Secretary John Quigley of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said the DCNR donated a half-million dollars and got the equivalent of a small state park. He said they were heavily involved with the restoration work, but the ability to provide grants hangs in the balance of the new state budget.
Quigley said he drove the Gap "quite a bit and recalls what it was like." Kunkle was a delight to work with, and the building is a statement of values he took a Superfund site and made it into a nature center. It shows a belief in our children's future, said Quigley.
"What a celebration. We hear a lot of good ideas and Kunkle started casting his vision," said Dennis DeMara of the DCNR. "We look for conservation values of the land and asked, 'Where're the trees?'" but there were none. Kunkle was the driver of the project.
Christine Sutjak from Alvin Butz Inc. said the building turned out wonderfully and the community can enjoy nature.
Hoopes said the Delaware & Lehigh Trail group were wonderful partners. Bill Mineo, trail manager at the time, listened to the plan and said it was a great concept. The D&L would help us and it still does.
Elissa Thorne represented the D&L at the grand opening. "We nurture partnerships. We're there when someone has a vision." The D&L trail runs along the river outside the center.
Rep. Charlie Dent and Judy Borger accepted a national award in Washington DC on behalf of the center. Dent helped with federal funding.
"I'm glad to be here today," Dent said. When Kunkle first approached him, the site looked like a moonscape. "I'm glad to be a partner. People for years to come will enjoy what the center has to offer.
Representative Julie Harhart and Keith McCall met in her office and the result was a Department of Community and Economic Development grant.
McCall went to Kunkle and asked, "Are you kidding? You want to revitalize this?" He not only wanted to, but did.
Harhart said she was glad to be a part of the big success story and thanked all the volunteers who helped make it possible.
Scott and Amy Weidensaul of the Pa. Audubon Society live in the shadow of Hawk Mountain. Amy said they are both good friends of the center. "What a morning."
John James Audubon traveled this area studying birds. Kunkle has urged collaboration along the Kittatinny Ridge. She said she and Kunkle have been working on some funding ideas.
Scott asked people to imagine Lenape canoes coming down the river. He said he was a child of the coal region. "We face so many challenges. See what a small group can do."
The cheers and applause that met the final speaker, Kunkle, embarrassed him.
"Wow, what a day, this is awesome," and he set about giving credit where credit is due beginning with Michael Jonn, architect, and Ed Newcomb, fundraiser. Jonn said he was pleased with the way it came out and Newcomb said behind every successful man there is a woman. "Hi, Cheryl," he said to Kunkle's wife. "We have a flock of eagles led by Kunkle. We all have an investment in this."
Kunkle said he was asked about a beam in the great room and said it was for expansion "and we'll need it." He said his parents taught him about life and most important is Cheryl. For 35 years they worked together in a partnership that was better than either could do alone, he said. He could not have quit his job at Freedom High School if it had not been for Cheryl.
The board of directors is the best, said Kunkle. They speak their minds but when there is a vote there is always a consensus. Corey Husic of the Naturalist's Club is working for the center. Marian Tranguch served three internships.
Peter and Carol Kern helped with the library supported by the Hommer Foundation. "Go and see it," said Kunkle.
There was government support from many places. Cindy Dunn of the DCNR said she enjoys the nature center newsletter, "The Activist."
Sherry Acevedo of the D&L marched probation kids up the mountain carrying grass seed to plant and see if it would take root.
Washington Township came and fixed the potholes in the road. Supervisor Roy Dengler mowed the grass. Jan Creedon of Lehigh County has been "wonderfully supportive."
PPL asked what was needed. "We didn't have to ask." First Niagara Bank offered help. Linny Fowler was the biggest individual supporter.
The Appalachian and Philadelphia trail groups were ready to help where they could.
Sue Tansit of Edge of the Woods and Green Man Enviroscaping provided native plants and helpful information.
A teacher workshop scheduled for Wednesday was canceled as the teachers offered to help get ready for company.
Kunkle was told, "You know what this building means. It means you are here to stay."