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Ceremony officially opens Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center

Joining DCNR Acting Secretary Ellen Ferretti, third from right, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center are, from left, Rob Neitz; manager; Daniel Polzer, construction inspection manager, Department of General Services; Alfred Uzokwe, director, DCNR’s Bureau of Facility Design and Construction; Terri Kromel, chief, Outdoor Programming Services, Bureau of State Parks; and David Kemmerer, director, Bureau of State Parks.
With a just-fitted identification band on a leg and best wishes of DCNR’s acting secretary on a wing, the briefly detained song sparrow lifted off into the brisk, autumnal breeze, joining birds of a different feather drawn together in the same learning exercise.

A cardinal, hermit thrush and white-breasted nuthatch all followed suit.

For bird-bander Brad Silfies it was just another day in the park—Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center, to be exact—doing what he loves to do.

For his listeners, it was a learning experience in how this center volunteer educator and others learn more about the diverse songbird world around them.

And for DCNR Acting Secretary Ellen Ferretti it was a reaffirmation of why she was there—to dedicate the new home of environmental education in the Lehigh Valley. Today the bird-bander’s audience was comprised of DCNR officials; tomorrow they could be inner-city kids from Allentown, or older adults from Easton.

Joining state and local officials in a Nov. 20 dedication ceremony marked by musket volley salutes by the Jacobsburg Historical Society Honor Guard and testimonials from four speakers, Ferretti officially opened the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center—an energy-efficient building that will serve as the hub of the Bureau of State Parks’ public outreach and instruction in the rapidly growing Lehigh Valley area.

“This new center gives our bureau a powerful environmental education tool in a rapidly developing area served by a very popular state park,” Ferretti said. “The bountiful meadows and woodlands found on these 1,168 acres always have been Jacobsburg’s most effective teaching tool, but adverse weather often affected availability.

“That outdoors classroom undergoes a major expansion today, allowing staff to broaden the types of programs offered and ensuring students their programs go on—regardless of weather.”

Overseen by the Department of General Services, a year-long construction project yielded a 9,300-square-foot building offering environmental education space for interpretive programming, offices for center staff and modern public restrooms for park visitors.

DCNR Acting Secretary Ellen Ferretti prepares to release a banded song sparrow after the dedication of Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center.
The building includes a green roof planted with vegetation; solar panels; geothermal heating and cooling; onsite storm-water infiltration; water conserving plumbing fixtures; regionally purchased materials; and high recycled-content materials.

“This facility sets another benchmark in DCNR’s building project record of successfully combining energy conservation with environmental education,” said Ferretti. “We have four environmental education centers across the state, but Jacobsburg will fill a unique void when one considers Northampton County and neighboring Lehigh are expected to see a 22 percent population increase by 2030. This facility is designed to serve an expected growing stream of visitors.”

With Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the building itself is a lesson in energy-wise conservation and technology, the acting secretary noted. Already, several area colleges have inquired about tours and programs.

“This facility will serve as a model of energy efficient building practices while offering direct access to unlimited environmental education resources at the park,” Ferretti said. “It will also provide a rest stop for visitors to the park and the Homestead Trail threading almost four miles through its grounds.”

“The Lehigh Valley Greenway is comprised of many active conservation partners each playing an important role in land conservation, connecting communities to trails for health and recreation, and, of course, environmental education,” Jacobsburg Manager Robert Neitz. “I see that as our major role at Jacobsburg—helping to create meaningful connections between people and nature in a positive way through our programming.”

“This new facility serves as a model to demonstrate our regional work in the Lehigh Valley Greenways conservation landscape to implement conservation, education, and green infrastructure in a vital landscape,” said Sherry L. Acevedo, conservation coordinator with the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Inc. “This is a very exciting day for DCNR, our partnership, and for residents to enjoy the expanded educational resources at Jacobsburg.”

The Jacobsburg Historical Society Honor Guard fires off a musket salute at the official opening of Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center.
Financed through capitol budget funds, the environmental education center’s costs totaled $4.8 million. Lobar Inc. of Dillsburg was the general contractor.

Headquartered off Belfast Road in Northampton County, the environmental education center had been housed for many years in what had been a private ranch home. Besides outdoors recreation, the center and grounds offer environmental education programs ranging from preschool environmental awareness to high school- and college-level problem solving.

A variety of historical presentations, teacher workshops and public interpretive programs round out daily activities at Jacobsburg.

Once the site where the famous Henry Rifle was made, the Jacobsburg National Historic District lies almost entirely within park grounds. Original land for the center was purchased by the former Department of Forests and Waters from the City of Easton in 1959.

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November 27, 2013

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