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Hunting and fishing museum taking shape

With the annual Indian Festival being held in town last week, civic leaders in Tionesta Borough put up a couple of portable toilets outside the visitors' center to handle the crowds.

They didn't have to do anything about the traffic lights. That's because there aren't any. Not in Tionesta Borough, and not in all of Forest County.

Located in northwestern Pennsylvania and comprised largely of Allegheny National Forest, state game lands, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property, Forest County is home to about 10,000 seasonal residences -- hunting camps, cottages and the like -- but only a little more than 5,000 full-time residents. That works out to about 11.6 people per square mile, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Allegheny County, by comparison, has 1,755 people per square mile.

"There are no traffic lights here. And there probably never will be if the people who live here have their way," said J. Jack Sherman, a lifelong resident of Tionesta.

It's probably fitting, then, that tiny Tionesta in sparsely populated Forest County will be home to a museum dedicated to people who like to get away from the crowds. A 10-year effort to build what will be known as the Hunting and Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania is close to bearing fruit.

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Saturday on Lighthouse Island, a flat 22-acre land mass in the middle of the Allegheny River that will hold the museum.

Already, work to renovate an existing structure that will serve as the museum's activity center has begun. Once that work is finished, perhaps before year's end, visitors will be able to do things like tie flies, shoot an air rifle or a bow, reload a shell, or cook wild game, said the museum's executive director, Julia McCray.

Construction of the main museum building is planned for spring of 2007. It could open as soon as spring of 2008.

The museum board has not yet raised the $12 million that will be needed to construct the building, secure exhibits and fund an endowment needed to guarantee its long-term operation. It has about $7 million in hand, however, and plans to start construction while fund-raising continues, McCray said.

"I'm amazed that without a building to come and see, we've got over 500 charter members already. I think it's going to be very well received," McCray said.

Doug Carlson, president of the museum board and director of the Forest County Conservation and Planning District, has been involved in the museum effort for a decade. He said it will showcase sporting equipment manufactured in or unique to Pennsylvania. It will also shed light on the state's conservation history.

What the museum won't be is just a collection of dusty taxidermy, he said.

"Where we have mounted animals and fish, that will only be to illustrate the story," Carlson said. "We're trying to put more people into the picture. The process of hunting and fishing is the part of the story that's not being told."

Of course, those living in Tionesta hope the museum will spark some tourist spending in the area, too. Projections are that the completed museum will draw 159,000 visitors a year and generate more than $19 million in spending annually, McCray said.

That's why Sherman, president of the Forest County Industrial Development Corp., is donating the land that the museum will sit on.

"It will be a good thing to preserve the hunting and fishing heritage in Pennsylvania," Sherman said. "But the side of it I'm interested in is providing a boost for the economy of the local community. I'd like to see this happen for that reason."

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If you want to learn more about the Hunting and Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania, you can click here , call 814-755-3256, e-mail huntfishmuspa@usachoice.net , or write The Hunting and Fishing Museum of PA, 1 Highland St., Tionesta, PA 16353.

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