The Pennsylvania Game Commission celebrated 127 years of managing the state’s wildlife on Saturday by officially opening its Conservation Heritage Museum in the Visitors Center of the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Seemingly limitless wildlife and forests in the early 1700s led to two centuries of unregulated commercial hunting, habitat destruction, and the extinction of species. The museum’s displays of records, photographs, and conservation memorabilia document the state’s successful efforts to reverse the decline.

A nationwide conservation movement in the late 19th century, spearheaded by John Muir and Pennsylvania’s Gifford Pinchot, raised public awareness and led to the creation in 1895 of the Game Commission and its army of game wardens to enforce newly enacted laws.

A display at the newly-opened Conservation Heritage Museum at Middle Creek. (LebTown)

Saturday’s opening is the culmination of years of planning and the generosity of a retired game warden.

“Work to develop the museum began about five years ago,” according to a Game Commission media release. “Now-retired Game Warden Bill Bower had a huge collection of memorabilia related to conservation and the Game Commission. He was looking for a way to permanently share these pieces of history.”

The museum’s entrance at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Visitors Center. (LebTown)

Chad Eyler, chief of the Game Commission’s Special Permits Division, gave a talk and slide show on “Pennsylvania’s Conservation History” to those in attendance on Saturday morning.

Moving chronologically, from the earliest European settlers in the 1700s to the present, he showed the progression over two centuries from abundant wildlife to unrestrained exploitation to early efforts at protection to modern scientific management.

Early game warden uniforms. (LebTown)

Conservation laws weren’t always popular, and game wardens charged with enforcing them often encountered hostility and outright danger. Eleven wardens or P.G.C. employees have died in the line of duty.

Game protector L. Seeley Houk was the first, fatally shot in 1906 while issuing a citation. The latest was Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove, shot and killed in 2010 while investigating reports of nighttime shooting and poaching.

Game Wardens enforcing laws against trapping and hunting often faced violence, sometimes death (P.G.C.)

Visiting the Conservation Heritage Museum

The Conservation Heritage Museum is located inside the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Visitors Center at 100 Museum Road, Stevens, PA 17578.

The Visitors Center is closed on Mondays. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...