EcoCenter to be built green

Just above Park City lies the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, donated to USU in 2009 and valued at more than $35 million dollars, the wildlife preserve and adjacent EcoCenter were the largest gift the University has ever received.

Savannah Wake, the center’s director of education and volunteering, said the 1,200 acres of land provide research opportunities, internships, nature preservation and will soon provide distance education classes via broadcast and online.

The EcoCenter also holds a platinum LEED certification, the highest level of eco-friendly buildings set by U.S. Green Building Council.

“It’s one of greenest buildings in the state of Utah. We have bamboo floors, radiant heat, and we use fly ash in the concrete. We have solar panels on the roof to off-set electric use,” said Karan Swanger, a volunteer at the center.

Wake said the center opened in 2008, and along with preserving land and wildlife, a main focus of the center is to provide a green space for community events. In October the center sponsored a stargazing party which was attended by 10 physics students from USU along with others from the community.

One of the largest events to take place this year is the Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Sale. Through the support of more than 30 local artists, the sale will offer thousands of hand-crafted items and will provide an opportunity for the community to shop locally. The EcoCenter will get back 25-35 percent.

“People at the sale know that they’re supporting the community,” Wake said. “There’s something for everybody.”

The artwork is entirely local and includes many mediums such as jewelry, paintings, and woodwork.

“It’s all artwork made by small artists,” said Sandi Olsen, the administrative assistant in charge of organizing the artists. “We have photography, oil paintings, watercolors, mosaics, stone, ceramics, pottery, recycle glass arts, jewelry, fiber art, and woodcarvings.”

The sale opened on Nov. 26 and will run until Dec. 18.

“Our goals this year are to let people know that this exists and encourage them to shop locally,” Wake said.

Wake said in addition the the regular sale, on Nov. 30 the EcoCenter will host a special members-only open house.

“The artists will be there and the sale will be expanded,” Wake said. “We’ll have a climbing wall, refreshments, and drinks.” Memberships can be purchased at the door.

Wake said because it has only been open been open for a short time, this is the first event of its kind to happen at the Swaner EcoCenter. There are high hopes that the sale will grow in the future.

“If it goes well, we’d like to expand it,” Wake said.

For those who cannot attend the sale, the EcoCenter hosts a gift shop during their business hours with a few hand-crafted items similar to those at the sale.

Wake said although the building is new, the nature preserve has been in the making for more than 17 years. Originally started with a parcel of 190 acres, through donations and the purchase of the Wallin Farm the preserve has grown to include a 10,000 square-foot center and biking and hiking trails, and is home to over 100 species of animals.

“The goal was to create as little of a barrier from nature to building as possible,” Wake said. “We hope people can learn something here that they can take back to their own backyards and their own lives.”

Even though the Swaner EcoCenter is more than a two-hour drive from Logan, the staff works to accommodate students. The center has three different internships progams; Public Relations, Natural Resources and Land Management and Community Education.

“Interns here do specific things that need to be done like working on the preserve,” Swanger said. “They cut willow branches in the spring, plant those willows shoots which give fish new habitats and keeps river banks from eroding, keep track of frogs, and give tours of the building.”

Wake said for those without time or resources for an internship, the center offers short-term volunteer projects such as stream restoration and cleaning among its miles of trails. Instead of weekly or bi-weekly hours that most volunteer organizations have, the center’s projects are one-time events that last anywhere from one to three days.

“We’re different,” Wake said. “These are not regular projects.”

Wake said as the center continues to grow, so do the opportunities for students all over the state. In January, the center will begin to offer Distance Education degrees. According to the EcoCenter’s website, some of the degrees offered will include recreation resource management, residential landscape design and business accounting.

The Swaner EcoCenter and Preserve is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday. Hours vary and admission is free, however, there is a suggested donation of $3. For more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.

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