Facilities: Comprising 2,200 acres with various habitats typical of central Appalachia, Powdermill Nature Reserve is one of the larger private experiment stations in the USA. We maintain 20 buildings including the Nature Center (12,800 sq. ft), a state-of-the-art DNA laboratory, and eight fully furnished buildings for overnight guests, totaling about 40 beds and featuring campus wide Wi-Fi. For material, mechanical, and motorized support, we have a carpentry shop, barns and garages, two pickup trucks, passenger car, two-person ATV with dump bed, tractor, and mini backhoe. Our ample technical gear includes laptop computers, GPS devices, and two helicopter-type drones with cameras and spectral sensors.
Staff: The number of employees varies with grant funding. Presently, we have 15 year-round staff and up to 12 seasonal staff. These are (full time) Director John Wenzel; Operations Coordinator MaryAnn Perkins; maintenance workers Bobby Ankney, Rick Paesano, and Ryan Carter; educators Lauren Horner and Sara Klingensmith; scientists at Powdermill are Luke DeGroote, Annie Lindsay, Mary Shidel, James Whitacre, and Andrea Kautz; scientists stationed in Oakland are Chase Mendenhall, Jonathan Rice, and Mallory Sarver. Seasonal (temporary) staff include about two for avian research in spring and three in autumn, four or five summer camp instructors, and usually two summer assistants in other programs.
Visitors: About 5,000 people visit Powdermill per year, of which 600-700 are school groups, some of which get transportation grants from us to pay for bussing. We host about 2,000 person-nights in our lodging by visiting researchers and students, primarily from May to September.
Education: Our free public programs include “Storytime And More” every first Sunday of the month. Every second Sunday (fall, winter, and spring) a “Science And Nature” lecture for adults is offered concurrently with “Nature Explorers” for children. Every third Wednesday, we host “Nature At Night,” nighttime nature walks or films. Themed, seasonal special events attract approximately 100 visitors. In 2019, these events were “Cicada-Palooza” and “Pollinator Festival.” Children’s summer camps support about 110 enrollments every year. For researchers, we host professional workshops that offer advanced technical training. In 2019, 100 people participated in seven such programs, the most notable of which was our award-winning Latin American graduate-level training, now in its ninth year. Our gardens are home to more than 200 species of native plants in their typical environment, and our web site provides information to gardeners for growing about 120 of these featured plants.
Public profile: The Powdermill Facebook page, which has 3,950 followers, reached 450,000 users and engaged 58,000 of them in 2019. We have a separate website for anyone interested in following our avian research programs closely, and that website logged 45,000 visits by 21,146 visitors in 2019. We appeared in popular media outlets nine times in 2019, including twice in National Geographic. A number of scientific datasets are made available through web tools we created, including the definitive resource for tracking unconventional (hydro-fractured) gas wells in PA, a water quality data set of 1.3 million specimens from nearly 7,000 surface water locations across PA, an interactive gigapixel digital teaching collection for identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates, and a tool to explore the data compiled in a vegetation survey of Powdermill.
Scientific productivity and roles: Our staff members are annually featured in approximately 20 presentations at scientific society meetings. The staff also serve regularly as Councilors, Associate Editors, Board members, etc., of professional societies in their fields, currently collectively holding 22 such offices. Powdermill as a research site is prominent. In the last three years, 32 papers in journals were published by our staff, or other scientists who conducted their research at Powdermill or used publicly archived Powdermill data. Using Google Scholar to assess significance, Powdermill publications earn an H index of 25, meaning that Powdermill’s importance as an engine of research is comparable to a Full Professor at a major university. Our main research threads include biology of migratory birds (for which we are known historically, and still provide international leadership), Geographical Information Services, pollination and aquatic entomology, and forest plant ecology. We enjoy close partnerships with more than 40 scientists and institutions that share our research goals and efforts.
Extramural funding: Our funding sources in the last three years include grants and contracts from National Science Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Colcom Foundation, Laurel Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, PA Wildlife Resource Conservation program, American Bird Conservancy Foundation, and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. These proposals are conceived, initiated, and largely written by Powdermill staff, with strong support from Advancement and Community Engagement, and total more than $2,000,000. We currently have about $3,000,000 in proposals under review.
John Wenzel is the Director at Powdermill Nature Reserve, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s environmental research center. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
NOTE: Information about educational programming and visitors refers to activity before the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Powdermill’s website for information about visiting and programs in 2020.