ALUM CREEK — After 3 1/2 years of planning, the final phases of work on West Virginia’s newest nature center are underway.
Workers began clearing trees and excavating foundations for the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center on Monday. If all goes as planned, the 7,000-square-foot facility will open to visitors in 12 to 18 months.
When complete, the center will become the centerpiece of the 105-acre Forks of Coal State Natural Area. Businessman Jack Workman donated the property to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in November 2015, on the condition that a nature center be built there in honor of his late wife, an amateur naturalist.
The $6.36 million facility will be built with money from several sources, including interest from the DNR’s Kanawha River Endowment Fund, revenue from oil and gas royalty payments and donations through the Forks of Coal State Natural Area Foundation.
Last year, workers improved the Natural Area’s access road, installed water lines, moved a gas line and installed a small sewage treatment plant for the nature center’s use. That phase of the work cost $1.7 million.
The building and its exhibits will cost more than $4 million to construct. On May 28, Gov. Jim Justice announced that the center would receive a $959,613 grant from the state’s Abandoned Mine Lands fund to cover the exhibit costs.
Plans for the building have been in place since 2017, but the state’s notoriously slow bidding and procurement procedures delayed its construction until this year. Members of the Forks of Coal Foundation, who chafed at the delays, were elated by the grant announcement and the start of construction.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to turn cartwheels, I don’t care how old I am,’” Master Naturalist Diana Green said. “It was an exciting moment.”
Art Shomo, who coordinated the DNR’s role in the center until he retired from the agency in 2019, said he “didn’t think it would take this long [for construction to begin].”
“I’m happy now that the building is being worked on,” he added. “Now we need to get busy on the exhibits.”
Visitors to the center will walk under a vaulted, timber-framed ceiling into the center’s exhibit hall. A carpet pathway — blue, to simulate the Coal River and its two main tributaries — will wind through the exhibits.
Just inside the entrance, a 1,500-gallon aquarium will feature fish species native to the river. An exhibit that features some small live animals will be located nearby.
“There will be exhibits that deal with wildlife management, wildlife habitat, forest growth and succession, and law enforcement,” Shomo said.
The exhibits, designed by Split Rock Studios, a professional design firm from Arden Hills, Minnesota, will feature a section devoted to full-body taxidermy mounts of animals found in Southern West Virginia. Another…
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