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Pa. students learn from classroom's 200 animal specimens

September 28, 1999

SpecimensBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photos: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Walk into Room 114 at James Buchanan High School and you'd think you'd stumbled into the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum.

Inside are wall-to-wall animals, whole and in parts, frozen in death and taxidermy - wolves, bears, fish, birds, moose, deer and elk heads, a full mountain lion and one third of a black rhinoceros, all-in-all nearly 200 specimens.

It's TWEP, the Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project, a living classroom of dead animals and birds.

TWEP's motto, said Elizabeth McClintick, director of the museum and its educational programs, is education today for wildlife tomorrow. The project promotes education, conservation, ecology and the environment.

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TWEP was founded in 1987 as a charitable foundation by a group of area residents, including educators and taxidermists.

A main force behind the effort was Charles Brightbill, a Tuscarora School District teacher and environmentalist at Cowan's Gap State Park in Fulton County, Pa., who died in 1995. He was TWEP's first director. His vast collection of books on wildlife are an integral part of the museum's collection.

McClintick 40, of Mercersburg, has a degree in zoology from the University of Rhode Island. She is TWEP's only paid staffer and earns a stipend to spend 10 hours a week in the museum/classroom. Throughout the year about 1,000 students get to spend an hour in the class with McClintick.

The idea behind the classes is to give the kids a hands-on wildlife experience by seeing the animals up close, McClintick said.

The key to the museum's success lies in its educational programs, including summer field trips in which 100 district students get instruction in stream analysis, forestry, wetland restoration and plant and animal indentification. There is also an annual student wildlife show. The students' works are judged by area professional artists.

Close examinationThe collection of specimens came to the museum in many ways, McClintick said. The first group, about 20 mounts, was donated by the widow of Claire "Barney" Winter. Winter, an avid hunter, had worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Subsequent specimens have come from other hunters' widows and area taxidermists. In 1995, Simon Rhodes of Selinsgrove, Pa., began to donate his massive collection of mounts of African animals he had shot on safaris.

The far wall of the class holds many of his specimens, including the rhino, the skull of a hippopotamus and the heads of a wildebeast and several species of African antelopes. Still to come from Rhodes' collection and from donations from the White Oak Conservation Center in Florida are a zebra, a waterbuck, kudu, elan, oryx and a bontebok, McClintick said.

One huge trophy, a bongo antelope, was donated to the museum by the White Oak Center, McClintick said. The animal had died of natural causes at the wildlife center. One of TWEP's board members had to drive down to Florida and bring it back within three days before it could decompose, McClintick said.

TWEP recently broke ground for its own building - a $200,000 structure being built between James Buchanan High and Middle schools. The land, which is leased to the museum for 99 years by the school district, is the TWEP Nature Area.

The 42-by-84-foot building will house the museum, a classroom, laboratory and board meeting room. Money for construction was raised over the last 10 years through donations and fund-raisers like the annual TWEP auction, McClintick said.

Major benefactors included retired local industrialist John L. Grove, JLG Industries in McConnellsburg, Pa., and the local chapter of Safari International, she said.

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