by Laura Catalano, Schuylkill River Heritage Area
The Schuylkill River Heritage Area celebrated the grand opening of the recently completed, interactive River of Revolutions Interpretive Center on Monday.
Developed as a visitor center for the Schuylkill River region, it includes colorful exhibits about regional history and provides information on tourist and recreational sites.
The grand opening ceremony was held in the Interpretive Center, which is located in the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices, at 140 College Drive in Pottstown. About 100 people attended, including speakers Congressman Jim Gerlach; PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources Deputy Secretary John Giordano; Montgomery County Community College President Karen Stout; Pottstown Mayor Bonnie Heath and Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Kurt Zwikl.
The River of Revolutions Interpretive Center was developed over a period of six years. It features interactive exhibits, family friendly displays and educational videos that highlight the significant role the region played through the American, Industrial and Environmental Revolutions. Maps and brochures encourage visitors to seek out recreational and tourist opportunities throughout the five-county (Schuylkill, Berks, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia) Heritage Area.
“We are excited about opening this new Interpretive Center. It allows us to better achieve our goals of educating people about the history of this region and the importance of protecting the Schuylkill River,” said Zwikl. “By providing tourist and recreational information, we also hope to connect people to that history and to the beauty of the river, and at the same time increase regional tourism.”
Visitors to the center can learn about the role the river played throughout the Philadelphia Campaign, during the American Revolution. They can discover how crucial the Schuylkill Canal and the region’s factories, forges and coal mines were to the Industrial Revolution. And they can find out how the once heavily polluted Schuylkill was brought back from the brink of disaster during the Environmental Revolution.
In addition, interactive video monitors allow visitors to take virtual tours of sites related to the three revolutions, while a table with a relief map gives them a bird’s eye view of the entire Schuylkill River watershed.
“Projects like the Interpretive Center are emblematic of DCNR’s Heritage Area Program and its goals of strengthening our economy through tourism; creating strong partnerships; conserving cultural resources; linking significant natural, recreational, and historic sites; and educating visitors on the significance of the region’s history and resources,” said Giordano. “Moreover, estimates show that Pennsylvania’s Heritage Area network generates over $1 billion in annual sales, supporting more than 30,000 jobs.”
The new interpretive center will one day be part of the planned Schuylkill River Academic and Heritage Center, which is being developed through a unique partnership between Montgomery County Community College and the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. That project involves renovating a currently unused portion of the College-owned 140 College Drive building, where the Heritage Area offices are housed.
When finished, the building will contain classrooms and a state-of-the-art laboratory that will support the College’s Environmental Science degree program and allow for joint programming between the Heritage Area focusing on recreation and river education. The River of Revolutions Interpretive Center is the latest addition to the Academic and Heritage Center. Over the past several years the college has renovated a parking lot that will serve the center and completed infrastructure improvements to the building.
The Interpretive Center project was led by Steel City Displays, in Malvern, and designed by Miller Designworks, of Phoenixville. It was funded in part by a grant from the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, and through the National Park Service, the George and Miriam Martin Foundation, National Penn Bancshares, Inc., and members of the Schuylkill River Greenway Association Board of Directors.
The Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area, managed by the non-profit Schuylkill River Greenway Association, uses conservation, education, recreation, historic preservation and tourism as tools for community revitalization and economic development. Visit www.schuylkillriver.org to learn more.
Photos by Alana J. Mauger, Think Green Editor