Tucked away on a side street between Bushkill and Dingmans Ferry is the Pocono Environmental Education Center, a 38-acre campus with six hiking trails, cabin rentals, summer camps, and other outdoor opportunities in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The location makes PEEC a great place to get away to nature, but it also means that even locals may not realize that it exists. This summer, two Delaware River Fellows Program participants are working to educate the public about what the center has to offer.
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“The thing that we struggle with the most here is that we have a lot of great programs and activities here at our center in the park, but very often we hear from people when they’re first here, ‘Wow , this place is amazing. Little did I know this was because we were off the beaten path, ”said Derek Scott, PEEC Operations Director.
In particular, Scott and this summer’s two fellows, Brian Frey and Xzy-Nayé Campbell, are trying to raise awareness of PEEC in the greater East Stroudsburg area. While the center is attracting more visitors from the Milford and Wallenpaupack areas of Pennsylvania as well as Sussex County, New Jersey, not as many people venture north from East Stroudsburg, Scott said.
Top of the list of reasons why this might be the case was the “large population of the county who at one point lived in New York City” and has since moved west, Scott said.
To reach this population, PEEC brought two residents of the East Stroudsburg area with them: Frey, who grew up in the area and said he was “always an avid nature lover,” and Campbell, who had recently moved to East Stroudsburg and none Had experience in outdoor activities until this summer.
PEEC is one of the 23 centers of the Alliance for Watershed Education, which works in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to educate people about the Delaware River and promote its protection, even for people who are new to nature.
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“We thought Brian and Xzy-Nayé were great candidates for the position because of the two different stories they told,” said Scott, adding that Frey’s experience could be well received by outdoor enthusiasts who are willing to learn more about “the bigger picture” and the science behind it, ”while allowing Campbell to connect with people who may be unfamiliar or unsafe about activities like hiking and canoeing.
Frey and Campbell’s efforts culminated on Saturday with PEEC Day, an informational event at the Library of the Smithfields. Children were able to color animal pictures, take part in an interactive activity showing how pollution moves through the watershed, and enjoy snacks while information about PEEC programming was provided.
The aim was to let people know that PEEC is “a place to come up, relax and take part in our programs, and it really is an inclusive and kind of gateway to nature in the Poconos”, said Frey.
PEEC “does a good job of being inclusive,” added Campbell. “From personal experience, a lot of places don’t really hammer home to bring in minorities, people with low-income families.”
It’s free to hike the PEEC trails, and activities are generally free or inexpensive, Scott said.
Visit peec.org for more information.
Kathryne Rubright is a reporter covering the environment, northeastern Pennsylvania politics, and local news. It is based on the Pocono Record. You can reach her at [email protected]