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75 years of safe passage

  • 20090908-143254-pic-722294847.jpg
    Photos special to the TImes News and by Elsa Kerschner Bob Owens comes nose to nose with a red tailed hawk during a Hawk Mountain weekend presentation.
Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

Thousands of birds of prey have migrated safely through the Blue Mountains at an area above the town of Kempton, Berks County. But it wasn't always that way.

Many years ago Richard Pough of the Nature Conservancy reported in the Wilson Bulletin, a scientific journal, about the birds that were once being shot for the thrill of it by the many shooters who came out to the lookout. The story did not stir interest.

One day Pough, some friends and a brother, collected the dead hawks that could be reached, lined them up by species and took a photograph. Still, neither the Audubon Society nor the game commission cared. After all, the hawks were predators that killed songbirds and small game, weren't they?

Nobody cared.

Pough presented at the Hawk and Owl Society. Fortunately, Rosalie Edge, a New York socialite activist was there. She was horrified, and leased the land in 1934 closing it to hunters, providing a warden to stop shooters from killing the birds. That was the beginning of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this month.

The land was purchased in 1938.

The first warden was Maurice Broun, who along with his wife Irma, took on the jobs of protecting and teaching at the sanctuary. Irma turned away people with guns.

They kept records of the hawks passing through. The lookout provided a captive audience and beautiful scenery. Maurice changed the public attitude towards birds of prey and helped people understand the place of predators in the natural ecosystem.

The Brouns lived in the Schaumboch house, an early tavern on the sanctuary grounds, He began a feeding station for birds outside a window of the house.

By the 1980s Hawk Mountain was creating research and training programs which taught the importance of helping other places through which the hawks passed.

"What makes Hawk Mountain significant is the legacy of being the first place in the world to protect birds of prey," said Mary Linkevich, communication and grants manager. "It is also the most famous Hawk watching site and the single greatest private conservation success. People think it is a state park but it is not. It is supported by its members."

Membership is 9,000 strong drawn from international locations, but with the most from Berks and Schuylkill counties and the Lehigh Valley.

The sanctuary is the birthplace of the environmental movement because Edge's activism awakened in people the need to protect the environment.

The 2,600 acre site is large enough to teach not only birds of prey but the interconnectiveness of nature, Linkevich said.

The Common Room, across the street from Schaumboch's, was built in 1959 to solve the need for more formal programs.

The visitors center was built in 1974 and expanded in 1991 which provided room for exhibits. Building on Broun's bird feeding station, on each end there is a large station outside a group of large windows. Seating is provided so people can watch as the birds come to eat. The squirrels that find ways to grab a bite are enjoyed by kids.

In 1993 Hawks Aloft Worldwide was formed. It is an international program to identify and work with sites around the world and to unify conservation for birds of prey. Expanding the work worldwide was the idea of Keith Bildstein, director of conservation services.

As a result, an internship program was begun. A gift in 2001 from the Acopian family allowed the sanctuary to take its conservation science training program to a new level, said Linkevich. The Acopian Center was built along Route 895.

It is a place to share information and has one of the largest libraries of raptor literature.

The Raptor Challenge works with school districts to reach every child in a school by working with third graders. Children are instantly attracted to raptors and remember the material. Sanctuary educators visit a school in fall and in spring the children visit the mountain.

There are four birds used for education but the sanctuary is not a rehabilitation center because it would overlap services.

Nonmembers pay a fee to use the trails but other programs are free. There are 200 active volunteers who do everything from parking cars to presenting programs.

The anniversary will be celebrated on Sept. 12 and 13. On the 12th shuttle buses will run from Cabela's parking lot at Routes 61 and 78. There will be panel discussions on history and personal experiences, the internship program and the future of Hawk Mountain.

In the gift shop Dyana Furmansky will be signing her book, "Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy - the Activist Who Saved Nature from the Conservationists." Jim Wright, who will be present, has a photo essay book that will be available. Being offered also is a print, "75 Years of Safe Passage," a picture of a northern goshawk in flight by Fred Wetzel. Furmansky will be back Sept. 26 and Wright on Oct. 10 as part of the autumn lecture series.

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