DREHERSVILLE – Although most associate Hawk Mountain Sanctuary with the annual Autumn Hawk Watch that begins in mid-August and extends into December, the internationally known world's first refuge for birds of prey and center for raptor conservation is also an outdoors destination from early spring through the summer.

Some hardy adventures take advantage of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary being open the year-around and visit the 2,500-acre wildlife sanctuary during the winter months to walk the eight miles of trails and enjoy the view from one of its half dozen scenic overlooks. In addition, many of the 70,000 visitors that visit each year come for the educational programs throughout the year, both in the visitor center and outdoors.

In the near future, those outdoors events will be held in a state-of-the-art setting, as Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe recently announced that the agency will provide a lead gift of up to $250,000 to help design and build the Pennsylvania Game Commission Amphitheater at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Joining Roe in making the announcement in a press conference at the visitor center was sanctuary president Jerry Regan.

"A partnership between Hawk Mountain and the Pennsylvania Game Commission makes sense," Regan said. "For more than 77 years, Hawk Mountain has successfully promoted wildlife watching, in particular bird watching and hawk watching, and birding is the fastest-growing outdoor pastime in the nation."

Roe said Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is the ideal location for the amphitheatre because it aggressively promotes itself as an outdoors destination and encourages visitors to explore the rich diversity of wildlife both in the air and on the ground. He believes the large majority of people visiting Hawk Mountain will also visit the outdoor amphitheater, providing a critical opportunity to connect more people with the PGC's mission and its importance.

"This partnership helps the Game Commission reach a general public audience, which is a new goal in our strategic plan," roe said. "We want Pennsylvania citizens to appreciate our role in enhancing the quality of life by managing and protecting our wildlife resources."

For Hawk Mountain, the partnership is another step forward in its four-phase, $10-million capital improvement plan. Phase I is well underway at the sanctuary's educational headquarters, The Common Room, where Hawk Mountain is expanding and renovating the building to bring it up to ADA standards, provide safe school bus entry, include new technology features for classroom use and to replace outdated exhibits

Phase II is the outdoor amphitheater where sanctuary educators will present live raptor programs and school and other groups gather. When completed, the final two phases will include a scenic gateway project to address parking, visitor flow and to develop a sense of arrival, and finally, to open a truly green building at its visitor center.

"Our current amphitheater is a completely under-utilized space because it offers no sheltered stage area, and the wooden benches retain moisture," Regan said. "Early plans call for a timber framed, covered stage with proper sound and lighting, and a setting that not only makes programs more enjoyable for the audience, but also will open up more opportunities for programming."

With the announcement of the new gift, Hawk Mountain will begin work on final designs this year and will begin construction in mid to late 2013. Meanwhile, the spring season is well underway at the sanctuary.

For information on events, programs and membership, call the visitor center at 610-756-6961 or access the website at www.hawkmountain.org [1].