Feature Story

New Visitor Center at Kinzua Bridge State Park on Track to be DCNR’s 14th LEED-Certified Building

In 2003, Mother Nature, in the shape of a rare F1 tornado, toppled about half of a century-old viaduct that carried trains over the Kinzua Valley in McKean County near the New York state border.

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This month, DCNR and many supporting partners dedicated a new visitor center and park office at Kinzua Bridge State Park. Visitors drawn to the skywalk and glass bottom observation area created from the remaining half of the railroad bridge now can learn the history of the viaduct, industry, and the area, as well as the outdoor adventures that are possible in the Pennsylvania Wilds region.

The bridge originally was built as an alternative to laying an additional eight miles of track over rough terrain along the line leading to McKean County’s coal, timber, and oil lands. Themes for the exhibits include:

  • The geography of the area
  • The viaduct as a symbol of engineering industry advances that supported the Industrial Revolution
  • An inspiring reminder of the inventiveness, resourcefulness, and “can do” spirit of the people of the late-1800s

Fast forward to 2016, where the visitor’s center is on track for LEED certification, and if successful, will become the 14th facility in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s system that is certified.

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The educational elements in this new center recall a time when we first figured out how to harness machinery and energy, and also point the way to a future where green infrastructure and efficient and renewable energy will provide sustainable solutions to ordinary, everyday problems,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. 

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class sustainable building strategies and practices.

“As part of a strategic initiative on green infrastructure and sustainability, we are aiming to increase by 50-percent the number of high-performing buildings in our system, share our expertise, and align our grant programs to help support projects that further sustainable practices,” Dunn said.

Currently, DCNR has 13 LEED-certified buildings that are described on a story map tour.

Incorporated into the center’s design and function at Kinzua Bridge are environmental features such as:

  • Efficient plumbing fixtures
  • Rain gardens and pervious parking areas
  • A geothermal heating and cooling system
  • Regionally sourced materials with a high level of recycled content
  • Sustainably certified wood
  • Natural lighting
  • Diversion of construction debris and waste to recycling centers instead of landfills

Small signs and interpretive panels incorporated into the center remind and educate several hundred thousand visitors a year about conservation practices and encourage them to give them a try at home.

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Included in the sustainable practices is the opportunity for visitors to “shop local.”

“Kinzua Bridge State Park is the location for the first ‘PA Wilds Conservation Shop’ that will offer visitors items from local artisans and businesses, and materials that are branded for the region,” Dunn said, adding that the shop is a public-private partnership with the non-profit PA Wilds Center for Entrepeneurship.

Shop proceeds will support the PA Wilds Center’s business and community development programs and resources.

“The Kinzua Visitor Center is especially exciting for DCNR as it completes a series of strategic investments made in our facilities in the Pennsylvania Wilds meant to draw nature tourists to the region for incredible outdoor experiences including dark sky gazing, wildlife and elk watching, and all types of outdoor activities such as paddling, hunting, hiking, and fishing,” Dunn said.

Other signature destinations (which also are LEED-certified facilities) include:

The 339-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park features remnants of the 2,053-foot long viaduct that was first built of iron during 1882, and then rebuilt of steel during 1900. The viaduct, commonly referred to as a railroad bridge, is a series of arches that carry the railroad over the wide valley.