Foundation Bails on Elk Visitor Center

Article excerpt

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation had planned to operate Pennsylvania's Elk Country Visitor Center near Benezette for the next 30 years.

Instead, it's backing out before the doors have even opened.

The Montana-based conservation group announced Wednesday that it had conveyed ownership of the 245-acre site -- where construction of the 7,000-square-foot center has already begun -- to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources a day earlier.

The move is a shocking about-face. As recently as June 12, the Foundation had sent out a news release heralding the start of work to build the facility "even as fundraising continues."

That last issue proved to be a killer, however.

The Foundation succeeded in raising $2.4 million towards construction, as it planned, said chief operating officer Rod Triepke. It failed at raising the additional $2.3 million its board wanted in an endowment fund to cover future operating expenses.

"We raise money for elk and elk habitat. When we stay within that box, we're pretty good at what we do," Triepke said.

"But our core competencies are in raising money for that mission, not in raising money for capital campaigns. And not in running a visitor center."

That reality, combined with some internal philosophical discussions, led to the pullout, he said.

The foundation began talking with its board members, some volunteer leaders and officials from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about backing away from the center as early as this past May, Triepke said.

But few of the group's rank-and-file volunteers seem to have been aware of that.

The Foundation was still receiving donations toward the center as recently as Wednesday. And at least some volunteers attended a get- together at the site this past weekend expecting it to be a celebration of their work on its behalf. …