West Creek Wetlands Learning Center open to public

ST. MARYS – The new West Creek Wetlands Learning Center, created by the Elk County Conservation District (ECCD), is now open to the public following a ribbon- cutting ceremony held Wednesday afternoon at the site.Elk County Watershed Specialist Kim Bonfardine welcomed attendees and provided a tour of the new center, which has been 10 years in the making."This project signifies persistence, hard work and partnerships with volunteers, companies, businesses and organizations," said ECCD District Manager Steve Putt. "Without those participants and volunteers, this project couldn't have happened."Putt added that Bonfardine, along with Elk County Community and Economic Development Coordinator Jodi Foster, put in a lot of man hours at the site and recruited their family and friends to help with the project; although materials for the project were donated, a majority of the physical work was completed mostly by volunteers. "It has been a lot of fun to be involved with this project and I am thrilled to be here," Foster said. "Kim has driven the project forward and is a master at finding volunteers."Bonfardine acknowledged the agencies that assisted greatly in the project. A portion of her work with the project included securing grants and determining where to find additional funding sources. Among those contributors were the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which donated $70,000, the Stackpole-Hall Foundation and Elk County. The Stackpole-Hall grant was utilized in hiring designer Dietz Gourley Consulting from State College.Also in attendance at the event were Elk County Planning Director Matt Quesenberry, various DCNR personnel, project volunteers and business partners and students from Elk County Catholic High School's advanced biology class.Certificates of appreciation were then presented to volunteers, including Jim Moyer, Les Haas, Jim Dippold, Andy Sorg, Mark Dippold, John Sheetz, Doug Foster, John Yacobellis, Kevin Detsch, Morgan Foster and Ken Mountain, as well as to business partners Mark A. Bonfardine Contracting, S&T Excavating, Carved in Stone and Tiles Are Us and J.M. DeLullo Stone Sales. Bonfardine explained that Elk County Commissioner June Sorg was the catalyst for the project. "June thought it was a wonderful idea and location, with industry on one side and wetlands on the other," Bonfardine said.Although Sorg was unable to attend the ribbon cutting, Foster read a prepared statement by the commissioner."The outdoor classroom is very important to me personally and to the county. Many have worked to make this happen," Sorg stated.Sorg explained that 12 years ago, area resident Paul Dornisch and Sorg's husband Andy expressed interest in acquiring the property to preserve and protect it. They presented information to the Elk County Industrial Authority in hopes of receiving approval for a lease. June Sorg became a regular attendee at authority meetings and asking them to consider a lease, which they eventually approved. "The ECCD agreed to manage the project and apply for funding to do improvements. What a wonderful job they have done," Sorg said. "It will be a great resource for the schools of Elk County. The kids will better understand the importance of wetlands, how they protect our water and environment. They will be able to have hands-on education."Sorg expressed her appreciation to the Elk County Industrial Authority; Dr. Bill Conrad and Larry Whiteman of the Stackpole-Hall Foundation, Elk County Solicitor Tom Wagner and West Penn Power. Bonfardine explained the rain garden, located in front of the pavilion, is dedicated to Sorg's efforts. A sign reading "June's Garden" was placed inside the garden. Pick up a copy of the Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.