BELL COUNTY – A newly announced project will turn a vacant industrial park into wildlife center in the SOAR region.
The Appalachian Wildlife Center will be built on the site of the vacant Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Park and is expected to open to the public in 2018, with work beginning at the site in 2016.
“Not only will the Appalachian Wildlife Center showcase the natural beauty of the region, it is also in line with SOAR strategies,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “This innovative approach will focus on the wildlife and wild lands that are in such abundance in our region, while generating tourism and creating jobs.”
The center is being modeled after the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette, Penn., which opened in September 2010 and within four months attracted 51,000 visitors from 46 states and 16 countries. That facility focuses on Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd, and offers elk viewing as its primary activity. Open 261 days per year, it attracted more than 420,000 visitors in 2014 and is located in one of the most remote regions of Pennsylvania.
The Appalachian Wildlife Center is planned to be larger, have more activities for visitors and be open 353 days a year. It will include a conservation education program, on-site research agenda and a scholarship program.
Covering 19 square miles, the site is inhabited by elk, black bear, whitetail deer, wild turkey, bobcats and more than 220 species of birds. It will be developed in a campus format and include a main building, a research and conference building, an amphitheater, a raptor rehabilitation center, an astronomy pavilion and numerous observation structures.
The main building will house a museum of natural and regional history, classrooms, natural history and taxidermy displays, an area dedicated to elk, a bird watchers hall, a theater, an assembly hall, a gift shop, an artisans market, a food court and offices. The site will include butterfly and pollinator gardens, numerous research demonstration sites and extensive bird watching trails, as well as a 15-mile loop road modeled after the Cades Cove experience in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.