KECA unveils youth conservation education program

BENEZETTE – Youth visiting the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette now have one more special "elk" to look forward to seeing. On Saturday afternoon, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA) officially unveiled "Benny," the mascot/ambassador for its new youth conservation education program. "Benny is our youth program ambassador," said Elk Country Visitor Center operations manager Carla Wehler. "He will be the ambassador for our youth membership, our conservation program, things like that."Wehler added that, at least initially, conservation education coordinator Barb Kurtz will be with Benny, introducing him to visitors. Wehler also discussed the timing of the implementation of the new program. "It's Labor Day weekend and it's kind of the start of the rut. Things are just starting to happen as far as that goes. The rut certainly isn't in full swing yet, but it's kind of breaking into it so we thought this would be a good weekend with lots of people around to kind of unveil everything," Wehler said. Kurtz played a large role in the development of the curriculum for the youth conservation education program. "I started about a year ago writing curriculum," Kurtz said. "All activities have to be aligned with the state standards, the Pennsylvania state education standards, and we actually have three learning blocks. We have elementary, middle school and high school, plus a general overview for the public of educational talks."Kurtz credited Wehler and KCEA president Rawley Cogan for coming up with the idea of Benny. "We were trying to come up with a name for the ambassador that would represent the area and the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, and we thought, what better to represent Benezette than 'Benny'? We just shortened the town name and came up with Benny," Wehler said. Kurtz noted that Benny was created as a means of explaining conservation to younger visitors. "He represents conservation. He represents the message of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, in other words, to conserve and enhance Pennsylvania's wildlife and elk habitat for future generations," Kurtz said. Youngsters visiting the center will now receive an activity book called "Elk Country Adventures with Benny" that they can complete to learn more about conservation. "When he gives these books out, that's what the whole message is, about conserving habitat," Kurtz said.