The Institute purchases 40-acre property for future nature center

The Institute's capital campaign co-chairs Bob Zimmerman and Jeremy Bowersox are pictured. PROVIDED PHOTO

WAYNESBORO—The Institute has purchased a 40-acre rural property in Washington Township.

Formerly based at Renfrew Museum and Park, an unexpected disruption compelled The Institute to leave that property—its home for 30 years—in 2020. 

“Since 1990, The Institute has engaged learners of all ages,” said Tracy Holliday, Institute executive director. “We are thrilled to announce the purchase of this extraordinary property, and can’t wait to welcome everyone to our new educational center with continued and expanded programming in nature-based experiences, cultural history and the arts.”

The nonprofit organization is launching the public phase of a $3 million capital campaign to transform the new property into an independent nature education center and living classroom, providing a hub from which it will serve the community. 

The Institute has already raised nearly $2.4 million toward their goal. A cornerstone gift of $500,000 from the Nora Roberts Foundation (NRF) allowed The Institute to acquire the property. 

“We believe an important part of our mission means supporting organizations that help create a beautiful, equitable, and safe world,” said NRF executive director and treasurer, Jason Aufdem-Brinke. “The Institute offers programs meeting this high standard by encouraging children and adults to co-exist and connect with nature. The Nora Roberts Foundation believes in The Institute’s goals, and we’re proud to support them.”

The Institute’s own staff, board, and campaign committee members have invested in the project with gifts totaling more than $500,000. Other leadership gifts were received from Tom Beck; George Buckey, in memory of Martha Buckey; Marge Kiersz; the Mummert Family Foundation; the Paul K. and Anna E. Shockey Family Foundation; and the Waynesboro Beneficial Fund.

“We are grateful for our leadership gifts, which have been crucial in building the foundation of the campaign,” Holliday said. “We’re fortunate to have a broad base of support, with nearly 100 gifts in place. About $625,000 remains to be raised. We know the community will want to help us reach and exceed our goal of $3 million.”

“We have worked to develop a vision of our new organizational headquarters and funds raised in the capital campaign will help to make the vision a reality,” said Jim Fleagle, Institute board president. “Our campaign co-chairs, Jeremy Bowersox and Bob Zimmerman have led the way, supported by a fundraising committee comprised of several community leaders.”

The property features a large pond, rolling meadows, a farm with a century-old barn, shaded creeks and wetlands, and woodland trails. The park-like setting will become a community resource—a place to enjoy outdoor recreation, nature, and the arts.

Work will be done in three phases. The first phase is to establish an administrative headquarters that will also function as a welcome center for the public. At the same time, a new bridge will be built for buses and other large vehicles, along with grounds and infrastructure improvements. Plans also call for renovation of the vintage barn into an adaptable education and visitors center boasting a contemporary, environmentally-sensitive design while preserving original features.

Additional projects include construction of an outdoor pavilion for gatherings; enhancement and expansion of nature trails throughout the property; and various infrastructure improvements, including outdoor lighting, parking, and accessible outdoor restroom facilities, all incorporating environmental sustainability features.

Small-scale activities are already underway at the property, and it will be fully open to the public upon completion of the bridge. 

“The Institute exists to educate, inspire and unite people around shared interests,” Holliday said. “We made a commitment to establish an independent nature center that will serve as an organizational headquarters and community hub for the next 30 years and beyond.” 

“With support from our community, we have navigated the past couple of years with great success,” she added. “Instead of slowing down, we ramped up our activities, expanding programming and events for students from public, private, and faith-based schools, the home educator community, and the general public. With our new home on this special property, our activities and community outreach will only increase. With continued community support, we can bring this fabulous amenity to life.” 

The Institute is seeking contributions from the community. Donations may be made by check, payable to The Institute and mailed to: P.O. Box 971, Waynesboro, PA 17268. 

Multi-year pledges are welcome, as are gifts of stock and IRA required minimum distributions. Payments may be made by check, securities, or credit card. For more information—or to arrange a private guided tour of the property—contact The Institute at 717-762-0373 or via email: [email protected].

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