Bruce: My guest today is Karen Dolan, Executive Director and CEO of the Gertrude B. Fox Environmental Center at 100 Illick’s Mill Road, as well as a Bethlehem City Councilwoman. I remember when you were teaching English and History; how did you transition from full-time teacher to CEO of a nature center?
Karen: It was during my teaching career that the nature center project began. The mill was condemned, and for 9 years, I worked with students to do a lot of restoration by hand, and also raise $1.3 million to restore the building for use as a nature center. It seemed like a dream at the time, but now we’re open to the public and hard at work on environmental actions along Monocacy Creek.
Bruce: Tell me about some of the projects you’ve got going outside The Fox.
Karen; Our current project is a stream bank restoration of a gorgeous natural spring that was hidden behind a dense hedge of 6-foot tall invasive Japanese Knotweed. It took three years to get the knotweed out, now we’re planting native species of trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses, and rushes, narrowing the streambed in an attempt to speed the flow, keep the water shaded and cold so it enters the creek as exceptional quality water. Plus this area is turning out to be stunningly beautiful.
Bruce: And this spring area is inside of the WPA-era Monocacy Park?
Karen: Yes, in fact, the spring is partially channeled though a Civilian Conservation Corp sluice, and this project is part of a larger historical restoration effort we’ve begun to repair other structures and their related eco-systems throughout the park.
Bruce: What’s available to the public inside the Fox Center?
Karen: On the first floor we have a constantly changing array of displays and exhibits; right now there’s a really cool interactive display on pollinators and an exhibit of Pennsylvania minerals on loan from Lost River Caverns. Our little store, Gertie’s Gifts, is super popular. We opened a nature or history-themed art gallery on the second floor, which we rent for weddings, showers, birthday parties, corporate retreats, and also offer to environmental non-profits for meetings or presentations.
Bruce: Any fund raisers or special events people should know about?
Karen: Our Butterfly Bash is September 22nd; we’re doing a pre-theater dinner during Pennsylvania Playhouse’s run of “The Putnam County Spelling Bee,” that will be a lot of fun, and we’ve got a Locally-made Chocolate and Wine Pairing Event scheduled for November 9th.
Bruce: Sounds like a lot going on. What hours is the center open?
Karen: Thursday through Sunday, Noon-5. You can find a lot of info on our website, www.gbfox.org, including our events calendar. Our Facebook page is also active; Fox Environmental Center, and if you add your email and/or address to our guest list when you visit, you’ll get out quarterly newsletter and invitations to everything we’ve got going on.