6.09.2014

PA Governor Corbett and Keystone Elk Country Alliance Sign Long Term Agreement.

Elk Country Visitor Center: 2013 Elk Expo
The Keystone Elk Country Alliance(KECA) and PA Governor Tom Corbett recently signed a long term agreement that continues the operation of Elk Country Visitors Center for 35 years.

Some had speculated that DCNR would assume direct control of the facility at some point in the future with  DCNR employees staffing it under the supervision of a career DCNR officer equivalent to a State Park Superintendent, but this action seems to lay this type of speculation to rest.

Advocates of the Public/Private Partnership between KECA and The Commonwealth point out that The Center's operation is not funded by taxpayers dollars, while a operation totally administered by DCNR or another state agency would be.

Operation of Visitor Center is partially funded by proceeds from gift shop and theater ticket sales.
Those opposed to the arrangement are concerned that this gives a private group too much control over a public resource and point to certain policies that they view as unduly restrictive or likely to cause problems, or at best not alleviate them.  A prime example is the" no stopping on the road or parking along the roadway" signs along the drive to the Visitor Center from Winslow Hill Road.

Would a pull-off area prevent problems in this area?

Certainly it does not work for people to stop in the road, but how many are able to resist doing so when they see elk in the meadow or standing by the roadside?  Should a pull-off area or extra lane been provided in this area so people could legally stop, or would this  lead to further problems? Would the cost of installing the lane outweigh any benefit it may have given?

This is only one example. It is always easier to criticize than to find workable solutions, but hopefully interest groups can work together to provide a better experience for all.

Whatever the case the KECA will continue to administer the Visitor Center for many years, barring some unforeseen circumstance.

Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

The following is the news release from The Pennsylvania Office of The Governor in its' entirety.

News for Immediate Release
June 2, 2014
Governor Corbett Signs Long-Term Agreement for Public/Private Partnership at Elk Country Visitor Center in Pennsylvania Wilds.

Harrisburg – Governor Tom Corbett signed a 35-year agreement with the non-profit Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA) for operation of Elk Country Visitor Center in Elk County, cementing a public/private partnership that was begun before the center first opened in 2010.

The Elk Country Visitor Center is nestled on 245-acres owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in Benezette. KECA, a Pennsylvania-based wildlife conservation organization, operates the center without state funding. KECA raises operational revenue through services such as gift shop sales, theater tickets, wagon and sleigh rides and other special events.

“This is a great partnership between government and a non-profit organization to continue to improve and expand the resources and services that DCNR provides to our citizens, and ensure a quality visitor experience at the Elk Country Visitor Center,” Corbett said. “Our relationship with KECA is a true success story, as together we have been able to improve wildlife habitat, educate the public about conservation, support tourism and create local jobs.”

The center is open year round and includes a 4-D story theater with special effects that explore the sight, smells and sounds of the area; interactive and interpretive exhibits; wildlife trails and viewing areas; wagon and sleigh rides; educational programming; and parking for cars, RVs and buses.

“The Keystone Elk Country Alliance is pleased and proud to partner with the Commonwealth to operate this world-class destination,” said Rawley Cogan, CEO Keystone Elk Country Alliance. “KECA’s educational and stewardship programs provide a clear and consistent conservation message and continue to attract more and more guests to Pennsylvania’s Elk Country. Local businesses continue to expand and create new jobs that fuel economic development in the region.”

The new agreement requires a significant capital investment by KECA, which has begun construction of an outdoor classroom to accommodate more educational programs and special events at the center.
Governor Corbett visited the center in the fall, noting…”attendance at the center has grown to 350,000 tourists annually, each spending money and supporting local small businesses.”

Twelve jobs were created by KECA to operate the elk center. Its gift shop provides more than 60 small local vendors and artisans with a new market opportunity. The number of lodging establishments near the center has almost doubled; three wineries have opened – all with an elk theme; and local stores and restaurants are expanding.

Pennsylvania’s elk herd currently numbers more than 800 animals – the largest elk herd in the northeastern United States.

For more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center, visit www.ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com or call 814-787-5167. To learn more about the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, go to www.ExperienceElkCountry.com. For more information about DCNR visit the website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

Media contact:
Valerie Caras, Governor’s Office; 717-783-1116
Christina Novak, DCNR; 717-772-9101
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