By Karen Wing
After 30 years of outreach, research and education, Shaver's Creek Environmental Center is coming out of the woods, so to speak.
From summer day camps, to the Outdoor School, to the annual Birding Cup event, to the Raptor Center (with 20 birds of prey), the center is already on the map when it comes to attracting the public on all-things outdoor. Now, a series of initiatives exemplifies a new level of engagement at Shaver's Creek, with added opportunities for the center's many loyal constituency groupsPenn State undergrads, schools, youth and the community. "Things have been evolving at Shaver's Creek, and we have a very good foundation from which we can express what we do so well," said Mark McLaughlin, director of Shaver's Creek.
Classroom Without Walls
That foundation has served as an inspiration for many. For example, when Assistant Program Director Ellen Will conducted a study of more than 200 former Shaver's Creek interns, she found that the internship experience helped shape their career choices and outlooks on the environment, with almost 70 percent going on to work in an environmental or educational field. Shaver's Creek is seeking to build on that impact, with an intensified effort to partner with Penn State academic departments. These new partnerships aim to create opportunities for students to gain teaching experience, leadership skills and environmental knowledge, in addition to college credit.
"We have had a long relationship with the College of Health and Human Development, but we are also working to establish opportunities for students in engineering, landscape architecture, architecture and horticulture, to name a few," said McLaughlin.
Dr. Robert Burkholder, associate professor of English, has worked with Shaver's Creek on his Penn State Wilderness Literature Field Institute, a course that combines backpacking, white water rafting and rock climbing with the reading and interpretation of literature.
"In 2000, when I initially had the idea of teaching a literature course wrapped up in an adventure, Shaver's Creek, and specifically Mark McLaughlin, were there to not only support but also to help teach the course," said Burkholder. "Since then I have used Shaver's Creek to help with freshman seminars, summer seminars for high school teachers and interdisciplinary graduate seminars, and whatever I have done with them has benefited from their enthusiasm, knowledge and professionalism."
Last year, Shaver's Creek hosted 29 different coursesan increase of 18 percent from the previous year; 657 Penn State students from 45 different majors in 13 of Penn State's academic colleges took credit classes; 310 noncredit programs served the needs of 9,643 students.
Another new scholarly activity focuses on nature writing. In the recently launched Shaver's Creek Ecological Reflections Project, two visiting authors are invited each year to the center to reflect and write about eight designated spots. The writings are being collected in a journal that will grow each yearwith the intention of continuing for 100 years. The inaugural authors were Dr. Ian Marshall, Penn State Altoona professor of English and environmental studies, and author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul. Weidensaul has written more than two dozen books on natural history, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist "Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds."
Weidensaul said of the project: "I was really drawn to the idea by the timescale of itthe idea of observing a piece of the landscape over the course of multiple human lifetimes. By its very nature, this project will produce a fuller understanding of how the landscape at Shaver's Creek changes with time."
The following is an example of an entry from the inaugural year, 2006:
the pines show them how
the green thing is done
Dr. Ian Marshall, professor of English and environmental studies, Penn State Altoona
Shaver's Creek is also serving as a connector for other, like-minded Penn State organizations. McLaughlin recently initiated the formation of the Museum Group, a committee composed of representatives from the All-Sports Museum, Palmer Museum of Art, Frost Entomology Museum, Matson Anthropology Museum, Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum, Center for Sustainability and Pasto Agricultural Museum.
The goal of the Museum Group is to collectively provide some strategic vision to each other's activities. "We're hoping to share resources, explore grant opportunities and basically help each other out," said McLaughlin.
And for Pennsylvania K5 teachers, Shaver's Creek worked with WPSU to produce a new iWonder series, which provides standards-based environmental lessons to use in the classroom (http://www.wpsu.org/edservices/iwonder).
Green From the Start
Long before the release of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," and before advertising giant JWT added "environmental causes" to its list of "70 Things to Watch in 2007," Shaver's Creek has championed eco-friendliness. Summer day campers are required to bring no-waste lunches; injured birds of prey are tended; and visitors can learn about watershed life cycles and how to reduce their carbon footprint.
Recently, the center has stepped up its effort to promote skills for minimizing the public's impact on the outdoors. Last year it became an organizational partner of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an international organization dedicated to inspiring responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. A team of master educators and trainers is available to set up discussions or workshops for community groups.
Also, to encourage more walk-in visitors, Shaver's Creek made two important enhancements: It reopened its wetlands boardwalk, a helical pier that provides an up-close and personal view of wetlands wildlife, and it eliminated its entry fee.
"After we made that change, walk-in visitors increased by 50 percent," said McLaughlin. In 2006, the center had 6,100 visitors; membership also shot up 16 percent. For more information, visit Shaver's Creek online at http://www.ShaversCreek.org.