Nature center plans offered

| Sunday, March 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has submitted to Buffalo Township a rough design for a planned nature center on the former Oregon Camp property.

“We're focusing on the site and master plan first; then we'll draw the property lines and shared space,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “It's inching forward.”

Buffalo Township purchased the 5-acre property on Monroe Road for $170,000 after two years of leasing with the intent to buy it from owner Steven Ford. Audubon plans to buy from the township the land near the Butler-Freeport Community Trail for the nature center.

The camp property sits between the trail and Little Buffalo Creek near Norris Lane and will be divided evenly between the two entities.

The township plans to turn its portion into a recreation site by renovating a building into a picnic pavilion and meeting room.

“The next step is for Audubon and the township to get together with a schematic of the property and determine how we want to lay it out so that we know who wants to have what on that property so we don't duplicate efforts,” said Township Supervisor John Haven.

More than half of the money to buy the land came from a $90,000 state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant.

The township has been making payments on the balance, minus what it paid to lease the property.

Haven said he expects the remaining $42,000 to be paid off by late summer.

He said the township will try to meet an April 10 deadline to apply for additional DCNR funding to help pay for handicapped accessible restroom facilities.

The rehabbed space and nature center will likely benefit the nearby trail, said Chris Ziegler, president of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail board of directors.

“They're coming to the trail to be in nature to begin with so to have a nature center there is an added bonus,” she said.

So far, Audubon has determined that the center will be a one or two story structure, with a ground level front that faces the center of the property. There will be a path connecting the area to the trail.

The size of the building is estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 square feet.

“It's still in the concept, drawing phase,” Bonner said. “Sometime within the next few weeks, we'll be holding a couple of planning sessions to talk about some of these joint management issues, to give some visual context (and then) have a public showing to share the results of that.”

The camp property is adjacent to the Audubon Society's Todd Sanctuary and the nature center will serve as a year-round facility for the sanctuary.

“We already offer programs (there) but, because we have no facility, some programs can't be done,” Bonner said. “What we want to do is further extend some of the programs that we do at other locations.”

The Audubon Society has a head start in funding educational programming at the site.

Columbia Pipeline Group, formerly called NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, donated $50,000 to the Audubon through the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which gives businesses a tax break based on how much is donated to educational organizations or scholarship programs.

NiSource representatives and workers were a familiar sight in Western Pennsylvania for months as they worked with municipal officials, including those in Buffalo Township, to install the Big Pine Gathering System, a natural gas pipeline that stretches from Butler Township to Derry in Westmoreland County.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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