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Mobile display teaches conservation

Mary Pickels
| Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Mobile Environmental Display, the Armstrong Conservation District's new interactive exhibit, hits the road.
Armstrong Conservation District
Mobile Environmental Display, the Armstrong Conservation District's new interactive exhibit, hits the road.
Frozen Raindrop, one of several interactive exhibits in the Armstrong Conservation District's new Movile Environmental Display.
Armstrong Conservation District
Frozen Raindrop, one of several interactive exhibits in the Armstrong Conservation District's new Movile Environmental Display.
Visitors to Armstrong Conservation District's new Mobile Environmental Display can create their own hills and valleys in this exhibit, a Virtual Watershed.
Armstrong Conservation District
Visitors to Armstrong Conservation District's new Mobile Environmental Display can create their own hills and valleys in this exhibit, a Virtual Watershed.

Area residents curious about how wind affects water quality, how waves are formed, or who would enjoy creating their own hills and valleys in a virtual watershed should be on the lookout for Armstrong Conservation District's Mobile Environmental Display.

MED, the district's new educational outreach program, premiered earlier this month at the Great Dayton Fair.

Plans are for the unit to visit Armstrong School District schools and turn up for educational programs and community events in Clarion, Cambria, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Venango and Washington conservation districts as well.

"This is going to be our major education and outreach event for the upcoming three-to-five-year period," said David Rupert, district manager, Armstrong Conservation District.

A Colcom Foundation grant and partnership with the Carnegie Science Center to create the display - modeled after Carnegie Science Center's H2Oh! Why Our Rivers Matter - exhibit led to the effort to reach rural communities and encourage conserving natural resources through interactive exhibits.

"(Cordelia S.) May, the benefactor of Colcom Foundation, had a deep affection for our natural surroundings. To understand nature is to respect the legacy of biodiversity," said Carol Zagrocki, foundation program director-environment.

An EQT Foundation grant supplied a towing vehicle powered by Compressed Natural Gas for H2Oh! on the Go!

CNG is liquefied natural gas that provides a cleaner alternative to other fuels, can reduce vehicles' carbon monoxide emissions by 90 percent and cost on average $2 less per gallon than other forms of fuel, according to a district release.

"This is a natural partnership between the EQT Foundation and the (conservation district). The opportunity for the display to be taken to counties throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, especially to more rural areas, opens up educational opportunities to a whole new audience," EQT Foundation President Charlene Petrelli said in a release.

The conservation district recently devised a new strategic plan, Rupert said.

Included was the need to increase education and outreach and make residents aware of its programs, he said.

"We are taking it to the students. We will work with teachers to help them incorporate the exhibits and displays into their teaching curriculums," Rupert said.

Rupert credited Gregg Smith, district dirt gravel and low volume roads specialist, for the size and scope of the exhibit, as well as pursuing funding.

"He came up with the idea after visiting the Carnegie Science Center. ... He said, 'Rupert, you need to see this sand table the science center has. This could be our future'," he said.

The two worked with science center staff to miniaturize the displays for the trailer.

The display features exhibits including a Frozen Raindrop, allowing visitors to freeze a raindrop in midair; Drag Race, which demonstrates the effects of drag on objects in water; and Virtual Watershed, which allows users to create their own hills and valleys while monitoring their progress using a topographical map, create virtual rain and observe the behavior of virtual water.

"It's teaching science concepts but it's also very interactive," Rupert said.

While fun for anyone from 8 to 80, Rupert said, the exhibit also provides conservation district staff the opportunity to answer questions and provide information and literature about its programs.

After the "inaugural eight" county rollout this year and next, the plan is to take H2Oh! on the Go! to as many as 23 Western Pennsylvania counties, Rupert said.

He also sees the potential for tapping homegrown talent from students who show an early interest in STEM subjects and pursue careers in those fields.

"I'm looking at this as a future source of interns and possibly employees in the future," Rupert said.

H2Oh! on the Go is scheduled to appear at the Indiana County Fair, Aug. 26-Sept. 2; Cambria County Fair, Sept. 3-9; Indiana Hoodlebug Festival, Sept. 10; Venango County Cranberry Festival, Sept. 16, and Burrell Township Fall Festival, Sept. 24.

Details: 724-548-3425 or armstrongcd.org.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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