In conjunction with numerous local and statewide partners committed to assisting with environmental education, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association (MSRKA) has formed an Environmental Education Partnership it is calling a “Vernal School” as a way to support the Montour Area Recreation Commission’s (MARC) work at the Montour Preserve.
The Partnership, backed by a $300,000 grant by the 1994 Charles B. Degenstein Foundation, will offer enhanced nature and STEM programming year-round to all ages and skill levels and is one of two new lifelines for MARC, which earlier this summer announced it may need to file a one-year notice at the preserve due to lack of financial resources.
The other form of support, on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, Montour County Commissioners voted to ratify a proposed amendment to the existing Memorandum of Understanding between Montour County, the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau (CMVB) and MARC – which governs the allocations and usage of Montour County Hotel Tax funds – that will generate approximately $100,000 in new revenue annually for MARC to support the Montour Preserve and other MARC-managed sites and projects.
“The Montour County Commissioners are committed to the proper care of the parks, trails, and outdoor recreational programming in Montour County for the benefit of the county’s residents and recognize these facilities and programs as the most important driver of the county’s travel and tourism industry,” said Ken Holdren, Chairman of the Montour County Commissioners. “All MARC-managed sites bring in more than a quarter of a million visitors each year, and are a Montour County gem that need to be supported.”
The 640-acre Montour Preserve, located in northern Montour County, includes a 165-acre manmade lake, picnic pavilions, a boat launch, 10 miles of trails, fossil pit, a nature center with walk-through displays and educational center with large classroom, kitchen and offices. It has been owned by Talen Energy and managed by MARC since 2015.
“On behalf of the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau, I want to thank the Montour County Commissioners, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and especially the Montour Area Recreation Commission for their dedication to keeping the Montour Preserve open and operational to the public,” said Otto Kurecian, Executive Director of the CMVB. “More importantly, we look forward to working with our community stakeholders in developing a sound strategy to assure that future generations can always enjoy this beautiful regional, recreational/educational asset.”
MARC has been historically funded by the county, more recently (since 2019) through an increase in the county hotel tax (3 percent to 5 percent). However, earlier this year, MARC reported it was not receiving enough funds to properly manage the preserve by approximately $100,000 annually, that numerous projects had been deferred due to lack of funds.
“MARC is extremely grateful for the continued support of the Montour County Commissioners and the Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau, as well as that of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and area supporters,” said MARC Director Bob Stoudt. “The new support announced this week will allow MARC to address a significant portion of its existing $620,000 deferred maintenance backlog at the Montour Preserve and other MARC-managed parks and trails.”
The MSRKA is planning to hire someone to help coordinate educational programming, access additional grant funding and improve long-term sustainability. Expanded educational programming is expected to begin in early 2024.
"We are so grateful that Talen Energy allows the public to use this facility and for MARC's tireless work to maintain the preserve, and this is an opportunity for us to support that work while amplifying the incredible resources and opportunities to connect all sorts of people to nature and their environment," said Riverkeeper John Zaktansky. "Many of us have fond memories of exploration and discovery at the Preserve during programs there as kids. Those moments helped inspire what I personally do to this day both as a Riverkeeper and personally with my family, and it is crucial that we provide future generations the same opportunities."
Money from the grant and partner contributions will be used toward necessary upgrades and other resources for year-round programming opportunities and improvements with a focus on sustainability for the program and MARC's work at the Preserve until a more permanent solution is in place.
For updates on this specific project, including an opportunity for the public to provide feedback and support, go to www.middlesusquehannariverkeeper.org/montour-preserve.html.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.