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Building addition to double visitor, education facility

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Dan Kunkle, executive director of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, discusses the progress being made at the refuge to members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Dan Kunkle, executive director of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, discusses the progress being made at the refuge to members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Published May 14. 2010 05:00PM

A building addition that will more than double the Lehigh Gap Nature Center's Visitor and Education Center remains on track.

Dan Kunkle, executive director of the Nature Center, discussed the project with members of the Palmerton Chamber of Commerce earlier this week.

Kunkle said the Nature Center is completing construction on its new building across the bridge leading from Route 248 into Slatington, where a 4,400-foot building addition will be added onto the current 1,800-square-foot building.

He said the building will be energy efficient, be well insulated, have highly efficient lighting, as well as a geothermal heating and cooling system. In addition, Kunkle said slate is being purchased from the slate quarries in Slatington, and floor tile made from soybean oil, will be used to maximize "environmentally friendly materials."

Also, there will be labs, microscopes, and an extensive conservation research library to comfortably house its collection, a conference room to seat about 14, and an auditorium to seat about 75, Kunkle said.

He said the project is the result of the combined efforts of businesses, individuals, and organizations committed to the revitalization of the Lehigh Gap.

"The exhibits will encourage people to get out, and we'll have checklists," Kunkle said. "The building is a springboard to get people outside."

Kunkle has targeted July 16 for the grand opening ceremony.

The Nature Center was originally incorporated in 1986 as the Wildlife Information Center.

In 2002, it started a program with the Superfund site, and thus changed its name to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

Kunkle said the Nature Center promotes conservation, education, research and outdoor recreation.

"It's about erasing that part of legacy and getting the mountain revegetated," Kunkle said. "It's green again, and that should help the town."

Kunkle said another key objective is to protect the Kittatinny Ridge, as well as wildlife.

"That's the heart and soul of our education," he said. "We saw over 2,500 students last year, many of which were from Palmerton."

Kunkle said the Nature Center routinely hosts students from St. John Neumann, as well as S.S. Palmer Elementary.

"We have great relationships with the kids," he said. "That's very important to us."

Also, Kunkle said colleges and classes have come to the Nature Center for labs, and added it's in a partnership with Moravian College.

"There was a project last year that was presented as a model for Australia," he said. "So we're getting international acclaim."

As for research, Kunkle said citizen science projects have been completed at the Nature Center, as well as the Bake Oven Knob, and Hawk Mountain, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

A trail system that connects the Appalachian Trail and Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor bodes well for the outdoor recreation component, Kunkle said.

"People are coming from 100 miles away; they love the views," he said. "That activity is what is bringing people to our area; you're getting business in Palmerton because of the Gap."

Kunkle, who said the Nature Center is always in need of new members, added there is no admission fee to visit the refuge.

Chamber President Peter Kern said Kunkle is "very well balanced when it comes to the real issue of pollution."

"The Zinc Company isn't the big, bag ogre that some make it out to be," Kern said. "I think there is that reality that this is what has happened."

Kern lauded Kunkle for his excellent work.

"Dan's doing a great job," he said. "The revegetation looks wonderful."

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