CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The dream of a Charleston area businessman to honor the memory of his late wife will finally become a reality this weekend. An open house will be held this Saturday to officially dedicate the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center in Kanawha County.
The facility situated along Corridor G just south of Charleston is a tribute to the wife of Jack Workman, a businesses man who deeded the property at the Forks of the Coal River to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources with the understanding it be used for a nature education center.
“He had a sincere intention to do something for the youth of Appalachia and he thought outdoor education and nature education was something that would be a great positive and there was a need,” said Bob Fala, who was Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources when Workman decided to leave the property to the agency.
Workman’s vision was to create “French Creek South” as he called it hoping to land something for southern West Virginia similar to the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek in Upshur County.
“When I became director he came to my office one day and he was emotional and said he was going to deed this property over to DNR and he had some wishes to go along with that,” Fala said.
The property served for many years as the world headquarters of Workman’s pipe company. There were two industrial buildings on the property which eventually became the headquarters of DNR District five. For many years the district had been disjointed with the wildlife offices based in Mason County and the law enforcement based in Nitro.
“‘This was right in the center of the district. We briefly looked at the two buildings for the nature center Workman wanted, but it became clear they weren’t really fit for that, but they were perfect as office space for the headquarters and the other building for storage,” Fala explained.
The decision was made that a stand alone facility would be built as a nature education center. Paying for such a facility was going to be a challenge with coal and natural gas revenues for the sate on the decline. Fala told Governor Earl Ray Tomblin they would rely heavily on private donations to help building and equip the facility. The necessity caused the Forks of Coal Foundation to be formed and plans for the nature center were hatched.
“It’s not your typical nature center because it includes education about wildlife management,” said Art Shomo, a retired employee of the DNR who helped shepherd the project from the idea stage to this weekend’s opening.
“There were some times we weren’t sure if it was ever going to happen, but it’s finally happening and it’s gratifying and exciting to see it open,” he said.
The Foundation has been extremely active in helping to raise money to pay for the exhibits on display. Those include full body mounts of a umber of species including deer, elk, turkey, bear, an otter and beaver. There were other benefactors as well, including substantial grants from the Abandoned Mine Lands program.
“Several of the exhibits have an audio component. There’s a button you can push to hear the elk bugle then go down to the turkey exhibit and push a button and listen to four different kinds of turkey calls,” Shomo explained.
You can also push a button to hear bird calls, open a drawer and feel the actual fur of various fur bearing critters in the state or children can pick up pillows shaped like rocks and perform their own “stream restoration” in the river design on the carpet running through the center.
The exhibits show the success stories of how wildlife management helped bring back each species to West Virginia.. There is also wood carved bald eagle, since there are severe requirements by the federal government on a mounted bald eagle. All of the exhibits were crafted and placed by Minnesota based Split Rock Studios with oversight from the wildlife section of the West Virginia DNR.
Additionally there is an aquarium featuring a number of native fish species to the state and terrariums featuring among other things, an Eastern Black Snake and a tortoise.
The event this weekend runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public. West Virginia Outdoors will originate live from the site Saturday morning on MetroNews Radio.
“This event is an excellent opportunity for families with kids and will be a great way to kick off the summer,” said Ashley Anderson, park activities coordinator for West Virginia DNR. “We’re looking forward to having everyone come out and experience all that we have to offer, including ‘Touch a Snake’ and ‘Bird ID’ activities.”
The facility includes an outdoor seating area for presentations in the open and sits in the more than 100 acre Forks of Coal Wildlife Area which features several walking trails on the property and historical markers.