Plenty to see and learn at Middle Creek’s Conservation Heritage Museum

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Some places in the Keystone state are simply worth a visit. Last week, I took my son on a road trip to browse the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s new Conservation Heritage Museum, located at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties, and we quickly discovered this is one of them.

The impressive exhibit added onto the MCWMA Visitor Center officially opened to the public on June 25, marking the completion of a long-awaited project that will help hunters and non-hunters alike learn about the state’s important conservation history.

“This has been five years in the making, and we are so happy it’s finally finished,” said Middle Creek Manager Lauren Ferreri. “It provides a fresh, new look and will serve as a valuable addition to our welcome center.”

The expansive museum features the diverse personal collection of retired Wildlife Conservation Officer Bill Bower of the Northeast region, along with many other relevant artifacts that contribute to the history of wildlife, fisheries and natural resource management and enforcement within the state.

We spent more than two hours in the exhibit, and I’m certain there were things we didn’t even see. But the items we did get to examine were fascinating to say the least.

Entering the museum, visitors are first greeted with a mounted passenger pigeon, now extinct from PA, as well as a full-sized punt gun, a display about songbirds once being caught for food, and a wall of old-fashioned traps, including an illegal barrel trap that was used to catch bears.

It paints a grim picture of how things used to be during a time of market hunting and unregulated exploitation of wildlife resources before the state hired its first seven District Game Protectors in 1897.

Further along, an interactive display about Game Wardens’ tools of the trade can be found, as well as a reproduction of cadet training quarters and various officer uniforms through the generations.

We learned that the first antlerless deer season was held in 1928, with sixteen of the sixty-seven counties remaining closed. Conservation officers were issued field scales to weigh the deer which had to be at least fifty pounds with entrails removed to be considered legal.

Tales of success are there, such as radio tracking artifacts, and a transport box from the reintroduction of bald eagles. A letter from Teddy Roosevelt praises the efforts of Yellowstone elk being released in Pennsylvania, and the merits of prescribed fires are presented as a viable habitat management tool.

But there’s also indications of failures, such as the state’s now defunct propagation program, which at one time attempted to farm raise ducks, turkeys, and other upland game that just couldn’t thrive in the wild.

Rabbits were also imported from Missouri at one time, and in 1949 a trade program was initiated in which farmers could trap cottontails and sell them to game protectors for 75 cents. These wild rabbits would then be raised at farms and stocked in various locations for small game hunters to pursue on state game lands, but that too didn’t last.

Roger Latham’s pamphlet dispelling the value of bounties on predators likely didn’t gain him many popularity points with sportsmen who favored the program, but he argued that research showed it wasn’t working, and that money could be better served by enhancing habitat for game species.

History shows that despite its mistakes, the agency continually strives to improve, such as the advancement safer hunting practices through Hunter Trapper Education programs and the introduction of blaze orange, which drastically reduced fatalities afield. A fun video shows the glaring impact afield, as guests must try to locate camouflaged hunters who suddenly appear when putting on safety orange.

Vintage signs and memorabilia grace the walls. Original copies of Game News and Pennsylvania Angler can be seen. Old hunting licenses – first canvas, then metal and eventually cardboard – span a range from 1913-1961.

Kids can make their own Duck Stamps or play a game where they must guess whether a creature is an amphibian or reptile. One can learn about the state’s heroes of conservation or view luxury items made from wildlife species around the world.

A beautiful quilt in the shape of a keystone has been sewn from late officer David Grove’s uniform, and a plaque memorializing other fallen conservation officers who lost their lives in service provides a stark reminder of the serious nature of the job.

In fact, the entire museum is a good reminder of all the time and effort invested in making our state the sportsmen’s paradise it is today, and how lucky we are to enjoy it – a message that’s already getting across to visitors of all ages.

“Attendance has been pretty steady over the first two weeks, especially on the weekends,” said part-time attendant Ellen Rupp. “There’s a good mix of young and old visitors too, which is great to see. It’s a lot to take in.”

It certainly is a lot to take in, but I’m glad to hear the museum is already linking the past with the future, as it’s important to understand the heritage from which we’ve come, to better inform where we’ll be going in the future.

The Middle Creek Welcome Center is free of charge and open to the public from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 P.M. to 5 P.M. on Sunday. The center is closed Mondays.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Tyler Frantz

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