Republished with permission from Pennsylvania Outdoor News | Written by Jeff Mulhollem | Intro photo courtesy of the Elk Country Visitor Center
After nine years of operation, the Elk Country Visitor Center is changing its multimedia theater presentation.
About 215,500 people have gone through the original theater presentation, according to Carla Wehler, operations manager at the Elk County facility. She noted that the new presentation would be rolled out in April.
The old presentation, which was designed by a team that included a retired Disney “imagineer,” immerses the visitor in the sights, sounds, and smells of a mixed hardwood forest. It shows the natural world of the elk, the native wildlife, and the heritage of the region.
The new presentation will take guests inside the elk herd while touching on the importance of habitat management and conservation for the health of Pennsylvania’s elk.
If you haven’t seen the original presentation, don’t fret, Wehler advised.
“We will be able to switch back and forth between the two, so folks can see both programs,” she said. “The interesting thing about the theater is, as many people as we get each year, there are still thousands of people who have not seen the original show yet. So we didn’t want to get rid of that original show when so many people still would like to see it, and it is so well done.”
The video shown in the theater entrance of the river rescue of an elk with a tire swing tangled in its antlers will continue to be offered, Wehler pointed out.
“I think our [original program] is unique for Pennsylvania because it talks about a variety of things,” she said. “It featured wildlife generally and elk specifically and their habitat, [and] it talks about conservation efforts both past and present. It doesn’t focus on one specific thing but rather concentrates on how everything comes together.”
The Elk Country Visitor Center, a public-private partnership between the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance has proven to be quite a draw.
The center has logged nearly 3 million visitors since it opened its doors in 2010. About 470,000 people visited the center in 2018, most traveling to Winslow Hill hoping to see at least a few of the elk in the state’s estimated 1,000-animal herd.
The elk center concentrates on conservation education for youth. Its two full-time educators gave presentations to 3,679 students during in-person field trips in 2018 and almost 25,000 since it opened.
“One of the unique things about the elk visitors center is a lot of time when children go places they are told not to touch things, but here it is the exact opposite,” Wehler said.
“We want kids to touch, feel, and pick things up, and experience Elk Country. They can grab one of the elk antlers, for example, and see how heavy it is, or touch the hides from different furbearers to see what they feel like.”
Students who can’t make it to Benezette in person can still benefit from the Elk Country Visitor Center’s conservation education through the center’s popular distance learning program. In 2018, the center educated 1,796 students via distance learning in 22 Pennsylvania counties, along with students in Florida, West Virginia, Minnesota, and Nevada with internet-based Skype programs.
Before the students connect with educators, the elk center ships the school a trunk with an elk antler, skull, hide, shoulder blade, and activities inside. Nearly 8,000 students have been educated virtually at a distance since the center opened.
Lastly, the elk center educators train teachers to offer conservation education in their classrooms. The teachers who participate in the workshops can get Act 48 credit hours. About 100 teachers a year get educated at the elk center.
“We are continuously doing teacher workshops, allowing teachers to explore and learn more about wildlife, habitat, and elk,” Wehler said. “And they take that back into their schools.”