TROY, BRADFORD COUNTY — Bill Bowers and Charlie Fox were at an estate auction several years ago when they witnessed history being sold.
Bowers, who is a retired Wildlife Conservation Officer, and Fox, who represents the northcentral region on the Pennsylvania Game Commission board, watched as old PGC memorabilia was auctioned off to several buyers. Where it would end up they didn’t know, but Bowers and Fox agreed that something had to be done.
“The Game Commission’s heritage was being sold,” Fox said.
When agency memorabilia came up at other auctions, Fox and Bowers bought as much as they could. Bowers, who has been collecting conservation memorabilia for decades, added it to his extensive collection. Posters, licenses, uniforms, patches, traps, if it had anything to do with the Game Commission, Bowers wanted it.
“I have an attic, basement and spare room that are all filled,” he said.
And that doesn’t include the hundreds of items Bowers has on display at the Bradford County Agricultural Museum.
As time went on and the collection grew, Bowers and Fox suddenly had a daunting task on their hands. While they couldn’t prevent everything from being sold at an auction or inadvertently tossed into the trash, preserving the items they did save proved to be a challenge.
“Light, insects and moisture are the enemies,” Fox said, adding that a recent trip to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service archives in West Virginia taught him how to catalogue and preserve the artifacts.
“We’re doing our best to keep it intact.”
Now, Bowers, Fox and others want to not only keep the enormous collection together, but share it as well. They’ve joined with other Game Commission retirees and the Conservation Officers of Pennsylvania Association have begun planning for a Conservation Museum that will showcase the historic items. The PGC has already granted approval for the facility to be located at the existing visitors center at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County.
Bowers said Middle Creek is the ideal spot for the museum because the site already attracts 100,000 visitors annually and the facility can be added onto the current visitors center. Electricity, water and sewer systems are already on site and architectural plans for the building are already complete.
But the biggest hurdle has yet to be cleared — money.
The Game Commission doesn’t have the funds to construct the building, Fox said, so it’s up to COPA to come up with the $150,000 needed to get the project done. The money is being raised primarily through raffles and donations, and Bowers said $20,000 was contributed in three weeks. He hopes to have the museum constructed and open by 2019 and in the meantime sportsmen’s clubs, businesses and foundations will be contacted for their support.
“These items tell the history of conservation. It has significance,” Bowers said.
And some of it is irreplaceable, such as the handmade wooden “sneak boat” from the 1950s used for waterfowl hunting that Fox purchased from an antique dealer at an auction. One of the oldest items is a jacklighter’s basket, a metal cage that was filled with pine knots and burned to light up an area to aid in hunting at night, that Fox said dates back to the 1870s.
One of Bowers’ prized artifacts is a cloth State Game Refuge sign that he believes is from the early 1900s. Bowers said the cloth sign was one of several that someone had sewn together to make a quilt.
“The first posters were made of cloth and then they went to metal,” he said. “I surmise the refuge keeper’s wife used the old cloth signs for the backing on the quilt because they were using metal ones.
“It’s part of the Game Commission’s history.”