TIOGA - Visitors who stop at the Keystone Welcome Center on Route 15-South probably will be greeted by Matthew West, tourist information counselor for the state Department of Transportation.
His primary job is informing travelers about the area and directing them to sights. But West also is known as one of the local "eagle guys."
The Wellsboro native has worked at the center since 2003. He frequently spreads the word on the big raptors by reminding visitors at the center to keep their eyes out for the eagles.
The birds nest close to the welcome center and are sighted there on a regular basis.
In 2011, five bald eagle nests were spotted in the area of the Tioga-Hammond lakes, which are in what West calls the welcome center's "backyard."
West is a volunteer with the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the Tioga-Hammond lakes. As a volunteer, he monitors bald eagle nests in his free time for all three lakes.
He started monitoring eagle nests in the area in 2007 in areas all over the lakes and gave educational programs at the lakes' campgrounds during the summer.
Riding the currents
"Eventually word got around my hometown of Wellsboro and people would stop me on the street to talk about the bald eagle nests and ask me questions about the eagles," West said.
When he gave a presentation to the Wellsboro Rotary Club, his father, Craig, who is a Rotarian, introduced him as the "eagle guy," and the name just stuck.
West makes monthly reports from the nest sites that are given to the state Game Commission, which tracks the bald eagle recovery.
He has taken that love for viewing the eagles to the Welcome Center.
"The eagles are seen pretty often behind the Welcome Center, riding the air currents. I get such a thrill showing or talking to customers about the bald eagles," he said.
West is very familiar with the bald eagle's history throughout the state and its recovery.
"Pennsylvania nests have produced more than 1,100 eaglets since the reintroduction program," West said. "The population continues to climb at about 15 percent per year with no end in sight."
Eagles were reintroduced between 1983 and 1989 at Haldeman Island and Shohola Falls. Each year, six to 10 birds were released, he said.
West believes it's very important to educate people about the species that was, at one time, almost extinct.
"If I volunteer, if I give programs and I also monitor the nests, I'll be able to rattle off the facts to anyone interested in learning more," he said.
West said a bald eagle first was sighted nesting in 2002-03 when the center was being built. The nest was on a pine tree on the edge of an embankment behind the center.
Every day while crews were building the center, they saw a bald eagle perched in a tree there, he said.
"While perched in the tree, the eagle had a good view of the Tioga River and the fields surrounding the river," West said.
He has submitted to the state the idea to install binocular viewers on the patio, located behind the center, so those interested can use them to view the birds.
So far, he hasn't heard back from his superiors.
He welcomes everyone to visit the welcome center and the lakes, not just to see the eagles soaring in the sky, but also to enjoy the area itself.
"Nothing beats the sight of a bald eagle soaring or fishing one of our waterways," West said, "and everyone should continue to savor every bald eagle sighting."