Governor Ed Rendell was on hand to help celebrate the official opening of the elk viewing center located on Winslow Hill in Benezette. A standing room only crowd of local, State and federal officials as well as area residents packed into the new center to hear Rendell’s words prior to the ribbon cutting on Wednesday morning.
The 8,420-square-foot green building is located on 245 acres owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The building includes interactive interpretive exhibits, wildlife trails and viewing blinds, year-round restrooms and parking for cars and buses. Annual visitors to the new center are expected to reach 160,000 visitors per year by 2016. Today, visitors engaged in nature-based tourism, including elk viewing, spend an average of $138 per day. By 2012, daily expenditures for these visitors are projected to increase to nearly $200 per day. The center will both draw and extend the stay of visitors to the region, according to Rendell. The Commonwealth spent a total of $6 million to build the center and an additional $6 million was raised through private donations and management costs.
The inside displays open at 7:30 a.m. with the sensory-surround theatre opening at 8 a.m. It will present the story of the Penna. elk herd from the birth of new calves to fighting bulls during the rut. There are life-sized natural history display in the center’s main room portraying the interconnection of animals to their environment.
There are six elk viewing areas in the PA Wilds, which include three in the Benezette area with the other three dispersed around the region. “Our vision was two-fold. First, we can do something to help the economies of the counties in the PA Wilds. The second biggest potential is it centers around the elk watching and the beautiful, natural resources that the Lord has given Penna.,” Rendell said. “While most other States and regions have shown tourism is flat or declining, the PA Wilds has shown an increase in tourism. I think the best is yet to come. With this visitors’ center, I think people will flock here. People say I spent a lot of money as Governor, I wish we had money for the State to advertise in Washington D.C., Baltimore and New York City. When I was young, I know my dad would have loved to bring us here. I think if we had money to advertise, this could be a huge economic boom. I think the best is yet to come with the opening of the center.”
“When people in Penna. elected me, they said we elected a big city mayor. It’s interesting how an outsider sees things with different eyes,” Rendell said. “I came up in 2003 when we were formulating this idea. This is incredible. I have lived in Penna. for most of my adult life and I never knew how incredibly beautiful it was. I never knew there were more wild and natural areas than Rhode Island and Conn. Combined. I never knew any of that stuff. I think it’s so important that our children all over the country come and experience this. I remember coming up in 2003 during the mating season. Rawley (Cogan) took us to the woods. We stood out at the tree edge at dusk. I heard one of the most beautiful, ethereal sounds of my life. It was the mating call of the elk. I thought people had to come here, people have to experience this.”
Like always, Rendell showed why he is so popular. He posed for photos with anyone who asked and signed autographs with his Sharpie. Then he started teasing me about wearing Steeler colors to the event. He didn't mention it, but I suppose he's an Eagles' fan.
When he went outside to tour some of the viewing areas, he waited for me to get there and I was the only reporter walking with him and the other officials. When he saw me on the trail, he said, "There she is. Lets go." I have followed him around over the past few years and he always remembers me. Unlike most politicans in his position, he doesn't hide behind a ton of secret service/bodyguards. He had one with him. He wants to meet the people who elected him and have a chance to say good bye since he isn't running for re-election.
I'll miss him, but I imagine he'll still be involved in politics on some level.
As we were on our way home, we saw a few elk in a field. Of course, we stopped and I jumped out to photograph the beautiful animals. There was one bull elk along with his harem of about a dozen cows and several babies. If you've never had the thrill of seeing the animals, you're really missing out. Their size makes it impossible to believe any hunter who "accidently" kill them during hunting season, claiming they thought it was a deer. There is NO WAY that can happen. Even the calf would dwarf a white tailed deer.
Labels: Benezette Elk, Govenor Ed Rendell, politics, tourism