Honoring a woman who 'loved the bay' Education center on Shore named for victim of terrorism

April 20, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

CROCHERON -- On a clear day, you can see the Western Shore from the finger of land called Bishops Head. The buildings across the Chesapeake rise gently on the horizon.

But, like the rest of civilization, it's merely a distant shadow here in the Dorchester County marsh. This is a wild place, a place for ducks, herons, fish -- and students.

The wildlife lives here, and the students can visit, thanks to the Karen Noonan Center for Environmental Education, which officially opens today.

The center, a converted hunting lodge that sleeps 24, is the newest educational facility of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It is named for a college student from Potomac who was killed in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Her parents, Patrick and Nancy Noonan, made a gift to help pay for the lodge's conversion and renovation.

"Our late daughter, Karen, was studying to be a teacher and had a great interest in youth and environmental education," Mr. Noonan said yesterday. "She loved the bay, and she loved the outdoors, and she loved children."

The education center was a way for the family to continue her interests and benefit others, he said.

Mr. Noonan, who is chairman of the Conservation Fund, a nonprofit group that works to preserve open space, wildlife habitat and historic sites, said the center is special to his family not only because of Karen, but also because his wife's family came to Dorchester County in the 1600s.

"Pat Noonan and I started thinking about this in 1993," said foundation President Will Baker. Six hundred acres and the then-dilapidated lodge were purchased with Mr. Noonan's gift and a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, he said. The foundation gave all but the 20 acres surrounding the lodge to the nearby Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The foundation raised $1.5 million, he said, and $500,000 went into an endowment that will help operate the facility. Renovation of the hunting lodge cost $750,000, and a boat, the Karen N, was built and fitted for shallow-water marine research with the remaining $250,000.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group, has 16 educational facilities. Each year, about 35,000 students go out in the canoes, workboats and sailing vessels that the foundation uses as floating classrooms.

The students come from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia, which touch the bay.

The Karen Noonan Center has two full-time staff members in residence, boat captain Jessie Marsh and Inga Clough, along with an intern, Mary Menzies, a senior at the Park School in Brooklandville.

Although the official opening is today, the center has begun operation, and several groups of Mary- land students have stayed at the center, Ms. Clough said.

"It's definitely hands-on," she said of the center's educational work. "They can see things and get muddy. They can be kids."

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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