Brock gives Wildlife Center update

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, March 22, 2018

The long-in-the-making Appalachian Wildlife Center (AWC) has some updates on its progress.

During the March 22 Soup and Sandwich event held at the Middlesboro Sagebrush, Judge-Executive Albey Brock spoke about many of the happenings in Bell County — one of the primary topics being the ongoing AWC.

For those unaware, the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation came to fruition in 2009 and has since slowly and surely made progress over the last nine years. The idea was to introduce wildlife conservation into the area. According to the official literature produced by the AWF, the Appalachian region of Kentucky is home to thousands of acres of reclaimed mine land, which is said to offer a perfect place for the conservation of local wildlife. The reintroduction of elk in the area was successful, and in 2013 the founders of the AWF came to the realization that the land of the AWF could be used for observation as well as conservation, and the idea for the AWC was born.

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It is projected that the AWC can educate 100,000 students per year on the topics of natural resources and wildlife conservation, provide $200,000 in college scholarships annually, attract around 630,000 visitors annually, and it will be a premier spot to view elk, black bears, deer, wild turkey, bobcats and hundreds of different varieties of birds.

“The most important thing that has taken place is that Fiscal Court has written a grant application to Abandoned Mine Lands in the first round of funding. There was $30 million available. We got $12.5 million of that. I doubt there will ever be another grant that will exceed that amount out of that first bunch. That gave the AWF the rocket fuel they needed to go and get the rest of their funding,” said Brock.

Brock also stated that Fahe (an organization dedicated to eliminating poverty across Appalachia) and Kentucky Highlands are in the process of providing the AWF the rest of the funds needs to “blast the project completely off the ground.”

Along with the variety of benefits the AWC can provide to the area, Brock did make a point to highlight the drawbacks that can come with the project. One of them being that elk can be a destructive animal — as they can destroy shrubbery and cause erosion while grazing in numbers.

The AWF also estimates that the AWC can generate over $1 billion in regional economic activity as well as produce 2,300 new jobs.