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Volunteers honored at Lehigh Gap Nature Center

Published May 09. 2013 05:09PM

An Eastern Screech Owl was being shown by Rachel Taras, an education specialist at Hawk Mountain, as people gathered for a volunteer day at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Everyone who volunteered in the past 10 years received an invitation.

As a catered dinner was enjoyed, music was provided by Bella Musica, a string ensemble.

A short video that will be used to introduce people to the Center was being shown in the conference room. It was put together by Kathy Romano, Lee Sivak, Donna Gasser, Phil Fair as narrator and Brian Birchak who tied everything together.

Both it and a later talk by Center Director Dan Kunkle began with the industrial pollution. In the early 1900s the New Jersey Zinc Company had no way to prevent the damage.

Where others saw degradation, the Wildlife Information Center, the group which developed into the Nature Center, saw opportunity.

Numbers were drawn for a raffle that had among the prizes cross-stitch pictures, a wall-hanging quilt, a spotting scope and many others.

The quilt was won by Chris Hankee. The Hankee family had donated a sign-in stand earlier in the program as a memorial to Krysta who passed away at age 22.

Anita Collins, president of the board of directors, said it was wonderful to see so many people at the event. She introduced Kunkle by saying it was unique that a superfund site had been turned into an education, research and recreation area, and said it was Kunkle who had the vision and kept everyone centered. His talk was "Ten years of Conservation, Education and Research."

Kunkle said there were too many volunteers to name but thanked them all. They participated in the hawk watch, research, gardening, an education team and a team of one who keeps the place clean.

"Ten years and we wouldn't be here without the pollution," said Kunkle. Bill Mineo of the Delaware and Lehigh Corridor said the founders were "people who were naive enough to believe we could do this."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said, "Washington is watching what gets done here."

There are many types of habitat. Someone said the powerline was a shame, but the Center saw it as an opportunity to create scrub habitat.

Moving day from its home in Slatington was in December 2002 and a grand opening was held May 3, 2003. It was raining that day but cleared up just before the program. "Nobody believed we could control the weather too," Kunkle said.

Grass was the first project to green the mountain. Nectar plants and nest boxes followed. By 2010 the building was tripled in size.

One and six-tenths acres of land has been bought in East Penn Township to build a trailhead and arboretum. Another recent event was a prescribed burn to try and kill the butterfly bush and grey birches that were taking up the metal from the soil. The grass does not.

Although many awards were received, the one Kunkle is most proud of was a national award from the Department of Interior.

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