"Friends" of TREC Becomes a Foundation – Hires New CEO

Written by Mike Dudurich @MikeDudurich

It has been said that change is inevitable. In some cases, inevitability becomes synonymous with necessity. A year ago, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center celebrated 10 years as an extraordinary education, research and tourism facility, not far from the entrance of historic Presque Isle State Park in Erie. Hand-in-hand with the TREC in celebrating was the “Friends of The Tom Ridge Environmental Center”, an associated nonprofit whose mission entailed creating partnerships between the private sector and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to help enhance educational programming, environmental research and regional visitor services opportunities.

TREC Foundation's David Martin (left) and Presque Isle State Park Operations Manager Matt Greene (right) recently met with Governor Ridge at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center on Presque Isle.

“We needed to raise an endowment to utilize funds for that purpose,” said Friends of the TREC board chairman John Leemhuis, Jr., a partner of the Quinn Law Firm. “There was concern that even the state itself couldn’t support our effort to the level we envisioned. Since 2008 things have been stagnant. Part of that was the economy and we decided to have a re-launch.”

In its first 10 years, the TREC welcomed over one million visitors through its doors. Over four million visitors travel to Presque Isle each year and that disparity in numbers is something all those involved would like to see changed. TREC is recognized as a world-class education, research and tourism facility that appeals to educators, researchers, students and nature enthusiasts and the visiting public.  and we’ve tried to take away any misperceptions and focus on the great stories.”

 “The center houses 10-12 local non-profits who are all focused on the environment,” Leemhuis said. “There’s a lot of exciting programs happening there and still so much potential.” That potential has gotten the attention of John Oliver, the President/CEO of VisitErie. “The TREC has been under-visited from people out of town,” Oliver said. “We need to elevate it to a must-see, something that enhances the quality of their visit. We want to bring them back or extend their stay.” There are plans for a partnership between VisitErie and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center Foundation in the coming months that could go a long way toward accomplishing the goals of both organizations.

The Foundation’s goal to expand educational programming, research and visitor services at the TREC and on Presque Isle makes their relationship with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) critically important.

“Our mission is to protect and conserve our resources, stay on the cutting edge of what we’re doing,” said Matt Greene, Presque Isle State Park Complex Operations Manager for the DCNR. “We have a world class research center here, available to people all over the world. There is a robust amount of exhibit space, the only place in Pennsylvania like this. Our connection with private sector is important and the Foundation is a major part of that.” 

For more information contact:
Cheryl McDonald, Director of Operations - Tom Ridge Environmental Center Foundation, 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA 16505 - 814-835-1384 or cmcdonald@trecf.org