The Appalachian Wildlife Foundation (AWF) completed purchase of the vacant 500-acre Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Park in Bell County on Tuesday.
In May, AWF entered into a long-term lease for 12,000 acres that surround the industrial park. The two tracts will be combined to form the sire of the Appalachian Wildlife Center.
The industrial park had remained unoccupied for 11 years, when the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority decided to repurpose it and sell it to AWF for development as a wildlife refuge tourist attraction and education center.
The center will open to the public in 2019. It is expected to draw 638,000 visitors annually who will generate over $124,000,000 in economic activity, and by its fifth year of operation, the center will have created 2,118 new jobs.
The Appalachian Wildlife Center is modeled after the Elk County Visitor Center in Benezette, Pennsylvania (elkcountryvisitorcenter.com) which opened in September 2010. Within four months it attracted 51,000 visitors from 46 states and 16 countries.
The facility focuses on Pennsylvania’s wild elk her, and offers elk viewing as its primary activity. Open 261 days per year, it attracted over 420,000 visitors in 2014 and is located in one of the most remote regions on Pennsylvania.
The Appalachian Wildlife Center will be much larger and will be open 353 days a year.
It will cover 19 square miles inhabited by elk, black bear, white tail deer, wild turkey, bobcats and over 240 species of birds. At its heart will be a 45,000 square foot visitor center, which will house a museum of natural and regional history, a bird watcher’s hall, a general display hall with an area dedicated to elk, classrooms, natural history and taxidermy displays, a theater, gift shop, artisans market, restaurant and offices.
The will also include an astronomy pavilion, butterfly and pollinator gardens, numerous research demonstration sites and extensive bird watching and hiking trails, as well as a 15-mile scenic drive, modeled after the Cades Cove experience in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Appalachian Wildlife Foundation CEO David Ledford stated, “They have proven in Benezette, Pennsylvania that you can attract more than 400,000 people a year just to view elk. We will have plenty of elk, and much, much more for our visitors to see and do. I expect the Appalachian Wildlife Center to become a premier bird watching destination, as it is located directly on a major migration corridor that places over 240 species of birds on the property during the year. It will be a family-friendly destination where visitors of all ages can spend an entire day.”
The Appalachian Wildlife Foundation is a Corbin, Kentucky based nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization.
For more information, visit www.appalachianwildlife.com.