Saturday, November 1, 2014

Zwikl Stepping Down as Executive Director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area

Kurt Zwikl, shown here speaking at an event earlier this year.
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area.

Schuylkill River Heritage Area Executive Director Kurt D. Zwikl has announced that he will retire, effective June 30, 2015.

Zwikl has led the Heritage Area since 2003. 

The board of directors for the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, which manages the Heritage Area has formed a search committee and hired Leadership Recruiters, an executive search firm specializing in non-profit searches. 

The goal is to replace the outgoing executive director by May 1st in order to provide for a two-month transition period before Zwikl leaves.

“The board extends its gratitude to Kurt for successfully advancing the Heritage Area’s mission through his vision, passion and strategic leadership,” said board member and Search Committee Chairman Rob Kuhlman.

The Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area, headquartered in Pottstown, is one of only 49 congressionally designated National Heritage Areas in the country, encompassing the Schuylkill River corridor through parts of five counties (Schuylkill, Berks, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia). 

The organization uses conservation, education, recreation, historic and cultural preservation and tourism as tools for community revitalization and economic development.

During Zwikl’s tenure the Heritage Area broadened its reach, expanded its financial base, and ushered in a number of projects and programs that have led to region-wide improvements of the Schuylkill River Trail, the river and the communities along it.

Zwikl, of Allentown, is a former state legislator, past president of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation and former chair of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“It has been my real pleasure to have worked with Kurt,” said Board President Carl Raring. “His qualifications for the job were outstanding but his attention to detail and enthusiasm for the organization once he took the job moved the Heritage Area forward to a position envied and imitated by many other National Heritage Areas.”

Since Zwikl took the helm, the Heritage Area has raised more than $20 million in public and private funds, all of which has been invested in initiatives that benefit the region.

Chief among those initiatives is building and improving the Schuylkill River Trail, which is owned

The Schuylkill River Trail
and maintained by a number of partners and will one day total 130 miles. The Heritage Area took a lead role in unifying the entire trail, managing the creation of a master sign system, instituting a trail website and designing and distributing trail maps, all while Zwikl was executive director.

In addition, the Heritage Area is directly responsible for building and managing the trail in Berks and Schuylkill Counties. 

Of the 30 miles of trail currently in place in those counties, nearly half were built while Zwikl was heading the organization.

The Schuylkill River Restoration Fund was established through an agreement Zwikl brokered with Exelon Corporation in 2006. 

To date, the fund has collected over $2 million and awarded grants to 62 projects that reduce stormwater runoff, agricultural pollution and abandoned mine drainage throughout the watershed.

He also cultivated a unique partnership between the Heritage Area and Montgomery County Community College. Through that partnership, the River of Revolutions Interpretive Center opened in 2012, fulfilling Zwikl’s vision to develop a visitor center for the entire Schuylkill River region.

(Here's video I shot earlier this year of Zwikl giving a tour of the River of Revolutions Interpretive Center)

The Interpretive Center is a component of the college’s Schuylkill Riverfront Academic and Heritage Center in Pottstown in the college-owned building where the Heritage Area is headquartered.

The Heritage Area is well known for its signature event, the annual Schuylkill River Sojourn, a seven-day, 112-mile guided canoe/kayak trip down the river that celebrated its 16th year in June.
The Sojourn Salute

Its popularity has grown steadily under Zwikl’s leadership, introducing over 3,000 registrants from 22 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and France to paddling the river since 1999.

Shortly after coming on board, Zwikl introduced the annual Scenes of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Art Show. For the past 11 years that exhibit has provided a platform for artists to showcase works that celebrate the beauty of the Schuylkill River corridor.

The Pedal/Paddle from Pottstown to Morlatton Village and back
was one of the first and the most popular.
Among the many other Heritage Area projects initiated by Zwikl are the popular Pedal and Paddle program, an annual Schuylkill River Trail Bike Tour, a Heritage Area lecture series, an exhibit of Revolutionary War engravings, and a PBS documentary entitled Revolutionary River. 

A total of 21 Gateway Centers have been installed throughout the region, and the popular free bike share, Bike Pottstown, which is managed by the Heritage Area, has been expanded into other communities as Bike Schuylkill.

“Although it will not be easy to fill Kurt’s shoes, we are confident that we can find someone of good character, vision and other skills necessary to move the organization even further ahead,” said Raring.

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