Katie Nowland, Buhl Park's environmental education director, stands with an artist's rendering of the education center that officials at the Hermitage park want to build.

Katie Nowland, Buhl Park’s environmental education director, stands with an artist’s rendering of the education center that officials at the Hermitage park want to build.

Buhl Park officials unveiled an ambitious plan at the Jan. 7 State of the Park public forum to renovate the activities building, build a new education center and improve the wetlands area that feeds Lake Julia.
“Environmental learning is really the future of this park,” said Buhl Park Corp. board member Tom Kuster, who said the projects will be contingent on getting grants and fundraising.
The wetlands are overgrown with invasive species and “really aren’t functioning as they should,” Kuster said. Officials plan to dig out the unwanted vegetation, install a flow control device so the area retains more water, and build a nature trail from the environmental learning area to the wetlands, complete with boardwalk and observation decks, Kuster said.
By improving the wetlands area, officials hope to reduce the amount of silt that washes into the lake, filter out nutrients that hurt water quality and provide better habitat for wildlife. This project is estimated to cost $240,000, and is expected to be the first completed, possibly in 2020, officials said.
The education center, estimated to cost $1.1 million, will cater to school groups – including homeschool groups – scout troops and the park’s own summer recreation and education activities, said Katie Nowland, who runs the park’s education and children’s programs.
It will be built near Sandy’s Place, the outdoor education area built a few years ago, and the activities building, and be more suitable for the children and their often muddy shoes that now dirty up the activities building.
“It will have floors that can be hosed down and a much more rustic setting,” said Buhl Park Corp. President Gary Hinkson.
With the demise of the McKeever Environmental Learning Center near Sandy Lake, Pa., which welcomed school groups for environmental classes, park officials hope to pick up some of those displaced schools.
promo“There’s so much of an untapped market,” Nowland said of schools, noting that she is open to discussions with schools and colleges about the center’s offerings and how the building should be designed.
The new center will take some of the pressure off the activities building, where children and adult activities are held, sometimes creating a problem in getting everything scheduled, Nowland said.
The renovated activities building, estimated to cost $425,000, will have new restrooms and entrances to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, new windows, doors and roof and an updated heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, said Park Director of Operations Ryan Voisey. It will be better suited for weddings, bridal showers and less muddy activities.
Rentals of the activities building are a key source of revenue for the park.
Interim Executive Director Linda Evans said officials want to do a better job of attracting people to the park from outside the immediate area, and also to better communicate with groups that use the park regularly, including tennis and pickleball players, garden club members and bird watchers.
“We want to keep the park relevant,” Hinkson said. “We don’t want to be static. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can constantly reassess and see what the community wants.”