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Superfund to super nature EPA honors Lehigh Gap Center for transformation to green site

Its role in the redevelopment of a formerly contaminated site has netted the Lehigh Gap Nature Center a highly distinguished honor.

A full capacity crowd converged on the nature center in Slatington Friday, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the nature center, along with Executive Director Dan Kunkle, with EPA's 2014 Excellence in Site Reuse Award.The EPA Regional award recognizes the work that led to the redevelopment of a major portion of the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site, a formerly contaminated site, into a wildlife preserve and habitat that promotes conservation, education and research.Bob Hoopes, LGNC board member, welcomed those in attendance, which included fellow board members, Carbon County Commissioners Thomas J. Gerhard and Wayne Nothstein, chairman, and students and faculty from St. John Neumann Regional School.Hoopes said, "This is a big deal today."Shawn Garvin, EPA's mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said, "We're here to really recognize an outstanding effort.""The Lehigh Gap Nature Center, under the leadership of Dan Kunkle, has worked tirelessly to achieve the ultimate environmental goal of turning a formerly contaminated site back to nature," Garvin said."I commend them for their bold vision, dedication and success in creating a place that the community can enjoy for generations. (The) EPA strongly supports the innovative and beneficial reuse of sites, such as Palmerton, as a key component for protecting people's health and our environment."After receiving the award, Kunkle said the group was initially strongly urged not to embark on the project. However, the group ignored the warnings and forged ahead."We chose to believe in what was possible," Kunkle said.Kunkle thanked the EPA for the award, which he said will lead to national recognition for the group.He also thanked LGNC board members and volunteers, and partners, whom he said were all an important part of this place."I hope you're all as proud as I of what we accomplished here and what we plan to do in the future," he said.Charlie Root, EPA remedial project manager, said the event was one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.Root introduced LGNC board members, who were given certificates for their efforts.Diane Kripas, from the State Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, said the event was also one of the highlights of her career.Kripas said, "This is a very well-deserved award."She added that the LGNC is an "outstanding partner."Peter Kern, president of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce, offered remarks.Kern thanked Root for his efforts."We're approaching the outcome right now," Kern said.Kern said the pollution that occurred over the years was not deliberate.He then complimented all of the parties who were responsible for the redevelopment of the site."We are working toward the same objective," he said. "I have to congratulate everyone who's pulled this off in the last 12 years."

BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS This beautiful view of Little Gap is seen from the deck of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the nature center with its 2014 Excellence in Site Reuse Award. For more photos of the center and the ceremony Friday, see our photo gallery at tnonline.com. Go directly to the gallery from this page by scanning the photo with your smartphone, using our Ads R Live app. To download the app, text "ADS" to Ads R Live at 40691.