Earlier this year, the Great Valley Nature Center, located in Devault, was recognized by the Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce and was presented with the Community Betterment Award for its longstanding contribution to educating the community about the environment. For nearly 40 years, the Great Valley Nature Center (GVNC), which is a nonprofit organization, has provided different programs and services to the Phoenixville area, as well as providing a refuge for wounded animals. While the GVNC is not a drop-off animal rehabilitation center, it does provide a safe haven for animals that have been wounded in the past, and are no longer able to survive on their own in the wild.
Open year round to the public, there are different trails to explore that run along the Pickering Creek and many unique animals to visit including chinchillas, a Columbia red tailed boa, and an outdoor Birds of Prey area featuring eagles, hawks, falcons and owls. The center also has scheduled programs and events that run throughout the both year on site and through schools. Many area groups take field trips to the center, and sometimes the center visits schools, bringing along an animal or two. The center also provides a popular summer day camp each year for around 1400 children.
Executive director of GVNC Tom Pascocello said the mission of the center is to educate as many people as possible about the environment and try to give background knowledge and skills to care for it so everyone can do their part to make the planet a better place.
“We have lots of folks who (visit)… …we are open to the general public so people come all year long, all the time. We have no age limits. Our audience (who attend programs) is mostly 3 year olds to 6th grade, although we do have adults that do some eco tour programs and adventure programs. Most of the audience that we have is (from) scheduled programs through schools or organized groups, so schools will either do a field trip here or we’ll pack up our critters and props and then we’ll go to schools,” said Pascocello.
Originally opened in 1974 as the Nature Center of Charlestown, the name changed in 1990 to the Great Valley Nature Center to try to appeal to a bigger audience. Pascocello said at first the center was mostly for immediate locals and then it expanded outward to a larger community.
“The first 10 years or so, it was really a Charlestown community place. A lot of the residents knew about us, (and) the local schools, but it was kept kind of as our little gem. And then based on economic needs and also opportunities that we could do (by) expanding out, the name was changed and we started doing programs within a 60 mile radius,” said Pascocello.
Along with the many running programs, the center provides a safe home to animals that have been wounded and already been helped through a rehabilitation process. There is an “Indoor Animals” section which includes rabbits, turtles, and various reptiles, as well as the “Outdoor Animals” section for the birds of prey.
Currently there are about 15 birds of prey residing at the center.
“They are all injured, and have been injured in some way, mostly by people, (either) hit by cars, some of them (have been) shot. Their injury is so severe, that they are unable to survive in the wild. So if they were to be released, they would die pretty quickly. Sometimes people will find them, they’ll get them to a rehab center, the rehab center will try to get them back to health and release them. Some animals can’t be released and then they kind of go (into) a little network system and they try to find a home for them. We have a small amount... …They’re all non-releasable, some have been here for 16 or 17 years,” remarked Pascocello.
He continued, “We are small nature center we have a small amount of space for our animals and we have a lot of animals now. Everything on site here is really to support the educational programs that we provide. All the animals are stewards for their species. We are not a rehab place, we do not take care of injured animals. We have injured animals but we can’t take care of any animals that get hurt, so we are not a drop off place for any animals wounded.”
Pasocello said it was great to be acknowledged by the Chamber of Commerce with the Community Betterment Award this past spring.
“It’s always great to get acknowledged for any of the things that we do here. Our staff is pretty hard working, they put in really long hours and are dedicated and loyal and they believe in our mission and believe in our cause. And the people that support us are really wonderful folks that are trying to educate their children about the natural world. So to be recognized by an organization that’s represented by the business community, is pretty special to us,” said Pasocello.
Outreach and Adventure coordinator Adam Smith said it is important to foster within the community an appreciation for nature.
“Our legacy that we are leaving behind is teaching future generations about it and hoping that it instills in them wanting to pass it along to others. Really, we are just hoping to be stewards of the Earth and promote responsibility for the care of the Earth. I think that’s really important, we only have one. It’s just important that we all take care of it, take care of the animals and take care of the land and the resources that are given to us,” said Smith.
“Really we are here for the community. It’s the community’s nature center and it’s unique. There are other nature centers, but I think we have a unique one in the scope that we do. How many hundreds of children have gone to summer camps here? Without that, the kids don’t really get their hands on nature time. We have that safety net, where kids can go out in the woods and still be monitored by the summer camp staff. It’s just really important to get kids involved in the out of doors,” Smith said.
Smith added that the center is hoping to replicate two Native American structures to show the differences in housing styles between the Lenape Native Americans and the Plains Indians. The Lenape once lived along the Pickering Creek in a longhouse style structure, while the Plains Indians lived in teepees.
“ It will also help us with housing scout groups or just organized groups who want to come out and want to spend the night in the teepees as like an overnight experience,” said Smith.
More information about the GVNC and programs and events is available at GVNC.org