Sanctuary celebrates state, county grants

Funds will help build accessible walkway

Posted on July 30, 2014 in Giving

Jerry Regan walks the future ADA trail with Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley. Photo by Tim Leedy.

A group of state and Berks County elected officials including Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley gathered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to launch the Sanctuary’s latest visitor upgrade:  a fully-accessible connector trail that links the outdoor amphitheater, Visitor Center, Native Plant Garden, the parking areas and trailhead entrance. The $800,000 project, funded by a $250,000 state grant through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is the result of a visitor and vehicle circulation study, and will improve safety, increase accessibility, and improve overall visitor services.

During the program, Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach surprised Hawk Mountain leaders by announcing that the commissioners have unanimously agreed to commit $365,670 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds toward the upgrade in 2015.

“I’m speechless,” says Hawk Mountain President Jerry Regan, as he chatted with a group of guests, which included the Lieutenant Governor, State Senators Dave Argall and Judy Schwank, Commissioners Leinbach and Kevin Barnhardt, and State Representative Jerry Knowles.

“Look at the representation we have here today,” he said, motioning to the legislators. “I’ve never been involved with an organization that attracted such broad support, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’re going to accomplish with this investment.”

Long-time visitor Cyrus Klingsburg, 88, explains that an accessible walkway is a much-needed resource. Photo by Tim Leedy.

Regan said that while plans for the walkway initially stretched from the amphitheater to the trailhead entrance, the staff and board agreed to expand the vision, to stretch the walkway to the nearby South Lookout.

“This is what our visitors and members really want,” he explained. “To make sure that every person who visits Hawk Mountain can be inspired by the view of the mountain and the migration.”

Long-time member Cyrus Klingsburg, 88, was especially pleased with this news, as he always recalled how his late wife Vera could not make the walk to the nearby South Lookout, one of their favorite destinations. On their last visit, she was forced to sit inside the Visitor Center and wait for Cyrus to return.

“I'm sure that my wife was far from unique in her disappointment at being physically unable to enjoy the view from that vantage point,” Klinsburg said.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley

The cost to extend the trail adds an additional $400,000 to the total project price tag, but Lieutenant Governor Cawley explained that Hawk Mountain is an important facility in the Commonwealth and worthy of support.

“Places like Hawk Mountain are what defines us as Pennsylvanians and what defines our communities,” he said. “We realize your value. We realize your importance,” he added, noting that the Sanctuary, as a private non-profit organization, receives absolutely no budgeted line item in any state or federal budget.

“The Commonwealth is proud to step forward with grants and aid to allow the Sanctuary to continue its important work,” he explained.

The new walkway will use permeable pavers and other green-building designs, incorporate a buffer of thick native plantings to visually separate the parking areas, and better help first-time visitors to navigate by funneling them to the Visitor Center and other outdoor facilities.

While final plans for the extension to the closest scenic overlook are still underway, the short but steep trail will be made accessible by incorporating a series of switchbacks, and offer two routes—one that is longer but wheelchair accessible, or the existing shorter pathway. Bench seating along the way, interpretative signage, and ADA-compliant trailside restrooms will also be part of the plan.

Leinbach says that the commissioners are equally proud to partner on this project and to commit verbally $360,675 in community development block grant funds.
“It gets them very close to the finish line and I believe that there are people who are potential major contributors and it is my hope that this will push them over the top.”