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Hickory Run State Park opens new visitors center

Visitors to Hickory Run State Park are usually trying to escape to the great outdoors.

But a brand-new visitors center welcomes them indoors to learn more about the nature surrounding them.

“It’s the best launch point ever,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We look for ways to transform people from picnickers or visitors into full-time conservationists. This place will help our great staff here and beyond accomplish that through the help of a well-designed building full of great messages and great education.” On Monday, the state park held a grand opening for its new $11 million visitors center and park headquarters. The building includes offices for rangers, camping registration, education space and an interactive exhibit center which describes the natural features and history of the park.

Park officials hope that it will be the first stop for people who plan to explore the 15,990-acre park, its 40 miles of trails, or the nearby Lehigh Gorge State Park and Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

“This is really the hub of the park,” said Rex Braddish, Hickory Run State Park manager. “It has anything any potential visitor to the park might want when they come here.”

The exhibit center, sure to be the most popular attraction for families, has interactive exhibits covering several of the park’s natural features, like Hawk Falls, Boulder Field, “Shades of Death” trail, as well as the Lehigh Gorge. There are also exhibits documenting Hickory Run before it became a state park, including early settlers, the stewardship of Gen. Harry Trexler, and 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps projects.

Families can take a virtual walk through the rhododendron, balance on a boulder field rock, build a Lehigh Gorge canal wall, and crawl through an underground burrow.

Each of the exhibits also has a lifelike re-creation of the park that it is representing - convenient for people with disabilities or mobility issues who may be unable to access those parts of the park easily.

The park staff moved to the new building in May. Up until then all of the park’s offices were contained in the same building that had served as the park headquarters since 1945.

“The old office served us well, but this will be more of a one-stop shop for visitors,” Braddish said.

The new building was built to meet LEED Silver certification. It has geothermal heat and skylights aimed at lowering energy costs. There are rain gardens surrounding the entrance.

The exhibit space will be open to the public throughout the year. The exact hours are available by calling the park office at 272-808-6192.

The expanded visitors center is opening just as Hickory Run and parks statewide are seeing a huge surge in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September 2020, Hickory Run State Park more than doubled the visitors it did during the same month a year ago.

The entire state parks system has seen a 30 percent increase in visitors. During some months there were 1 million more visitors than the same period a year ago.

The new visitors center is prepared to accommodate them. And hopefully make them more aware of the environment in the park surrounding them, Dunn said.

“As people become aware of how much they need nature, how much they need the outdoors, they’ll engage more deeply in places like this and take newfound interest to heart and become more avid park users and conservationists going forward,” Dunn said.

Fran and Don Plummer of Phoenixville walk through the exhibits inside the new visitors center at Hickory Run State Park. See a video at www.tnonline.com. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, checks out the exhibits inside the new visitors center at Hickory Run State Park.