Officials from The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the UVa-Wise Foundation and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority met at the college’s Oxbow Center in St. Paul Friday to make official the VCEDA grant for the Clinch River Ecological Education Center.
CREEC, to be housed in the Oxbow Center, will be developed in partnership with the Foundation and the college as a facility to accommodate a variety of ecological education, outdoor recreation entrepreneurial development and ecologic field study.
VCEDA Executive Director Jonathan Belcher said the grant is one way the authority hopes to support economic development in Southwest Virginia, students and researchers from as many as 10 colleges and universities across the mid-Atlantic and central Appalachian region.
UVa-Wise acquired the almost 20,000 square-foot Oxbow Center - originally built almost two decades ago as a site to house several social programs for senior citizens and other community needs - in 2016 and has already implemented a cybersecurity education program at the center.
UVa-Wise biology professor Wally Smith said Monday that the grant will help set up housing for up to 40 students doing field research in the Clinch River area as well as building a field research station and classroom where students and researchers can organize and evaluate trips and sample gathering.
Smith said that CREEC has the support of organizations and programs including the Clinch River Initiative and Wetlands Estonoa. High school environmental education programs as well as higher education environmental programs can work out of the center once complete, he added.
“I think it’s going to be a transformational project,” Smith said. “It’s going to bridge the community and environment.”
“We are so pleased that VCEDA chose to fund such a worthy project,” said UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry at Friday’s grant presentation. “The VCEDA grant will make a tremendous difference in the region’s economy.”