Shaver's Creek offers opportunity, discovery to students and community

In 1990, a Golden Eagle was released into Pennsylvania from the Hershey Zoo after being hatched and raised by its resident adult pair. But after the satellite transmitter attached to her leg showed that she'd stopped moving about a hundred miles away, near Stormstown, Pennsylvania, workers set out to investigate. 

They found the Golden Eagle had made contact with two electrical wires, shocking her and causing some pretty serious injuries. And that's where Shaver's Creek, Penn State's outdoor education field land and environmental center, comes in. 

Raptor Center

Shaver's Creek, located about 12 miles from Penn State's University Park campus, offers a nature center, hiking trails, live reptiles and amphibians, hands-on exhibits and a Raptor Center -- housing birds of prey unable to survive in the wild on their own. 

As a result of the electrical shock, the Golden Eagle sustained injuries to her neck and wing and lost a talon. Though she cannot be released back into the wild, her recovery was successful. She has lived at the Shaver's Creek Raptor Center since September 1990. 

The Raptor Center currently houses 14 different kinds of birds, from the Golden Eagle to five species of owls to the Bald Eagle, in addition to 12 species of amphibians and reptiles. Raptor Center Program Director Jason Beale says that it's a privilege to use these animals to help educate the public. 

"The animals are used in almost every program that we do here at Shaver's Creek," said Beale. These programs range from classes and internships to community programs and team-building exercises. 

He continued, "My number-one job is to make sure the animals are healthy and living in environments that are doing a service to the educational program. In addition, my main goal is really to inspire conservation. I want people to walk away from a program with the idea that they can actively engage in some form of conservation related to the animals." 

Conservation education

The Raptor Center program director displays a red-tailed hawk on a glove in front of the bird's enclosure at Shaver's Creek

Shaver's Creek Program Director Jason Beale describes the features of the Red-tailed Hawk, a bird of prey with a wingspan of 48 inches and weight of between 1.5 and 4 pounds.

Image: Michelle Bixby

Though all the animals participate in programming, Beale says the Golden Eagle is his capstone bird. With a wingspan of 78 inches and a weight of 12 pounds, as Beale said, "She's a large, impressive bird." 

Having such a memorable bird round out his educational programs, he says, is a great way to talk about conservation and the kinds of things we can do to ensure the Golden Eagles' survival. 

"Electrocution is actually one of the largest causes of Golden Eagle mortality out west, so her injuries are very relevant to talk about," he said. "Some power companies are now spacing their lines further apart so animals won't come in contact with them." 

In addition, Tussey Mountain -- located between University Park and Shaver's Creek -- is a critical migratory pathway for Golden Eagles in the eastern United States, with 239 counted this past spring. 

Student service

A student holds a Broad-winged Hawk on a leather glove as a student and visitor look on.

Jordan Crawford holds the Broad-winged Hawk as he and fellow student Carli Dinsmore describe the bird's attributes to onlookers.

Image: Michelle Bixby

Penn State student workers round out the Shaver's Creek team of both full-time staff and numerous volunteers. Carli Dinsmore, a wildlife and fisheries science major in the College of Agricultural Sciences, started out as a volunteer at the environmental center, but when she heard about the work-study positions available, she applied. 

"Working with animals and learning more about them is ideal for a wildlife major," she said. "We maintain the birds' enclosures, feed them and monitor their food intake, weight and general health. We also work with the public in educating them and fostering interest in conservation." 

Jordan Crawford, a recreation, park and tourism management major in the College of Health and Human Development and fellow work-study student at the Raptor Center, recently took the Great Horned Owl to a school visit in Dallas, Pennsylvania. 

"It's the third-largest species of owl in the world, and I got to walk around and teach 500 kids about her," he said. "It's really rewarding to show them things that make them want to go out and play in nature. It's really cool to be able to touch a kid's life like that." 

'Never stop discovering' 

As Shaver's Creek staff and volunteers continue their mission of educating Penn Staters and the broader public, they keep an attitude of learning and curiosity themselves. In fact, experience at Shaver's Creek tends to touch people's lives forever, as Beale knows first hand. 

A Penn State grad himself, Beale volunteered for the Raptor Center during his junior and senior years of college. Though his college program was in History, he found himself hooked on what Shaver's Creek had to offer and accepted an internship. 

"Volunteering and internships really set me on my career," said Beale. "Between the time of my internship and coming back here last September, I worked for the Audubon Society and the Delaware Nature Society. But as soon as I left here, I knew I wanted to come back someday." 

The enthusiasm at Shaver's Creek touches everyone on staff, says Dinsmore. "Here, everyone's so excited to learn about everything. The sign on the way out of Shaver's Creek reads, 'Never Stop Discovering,' and that's the attitude of every staff member here. The message is resounding."

Last Updated June 17, 2015