MILLERSBURG - A colorful palette of sand held promise for a new age of entertainment and learning in the region.

The sand was symbolic of the groundbreaking of the DeSoto Amphitheater for the Performing Arts at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art.

About 40 people gathered at the center March 7 for the celebration. Several representatives assisted with the groundbreaking, by pouring sand into a collective display bowl. Each sand color represented a community tenant of the center's: knowledge, discovery, education, nature, research, conservation and the arts.

Stephen V. Quigley, executive director of the center, welcomed supporters and introduced the co-chairs for the amphitheater project, Carole DeSoto, Lemoyne, and Marilyn Kauffman, Dornsife.

"This amphitheater will rise from the ground to grow and improve the center's outreach," DeSoto said, announcing the facility is scheduled to open July 25.

Alexander Construction, Harrisburg, has been awarded the bid for the building project, which was part of a $1.7 million capital campaign.

The 250-seat amphitheater will include a 30-by-40-foot stage, with conduit built in for lighting and sound. The site will be constructed of concrete planking and will be handicap accessible. There will be additional areas for seating, along the landscaped, grassy sides of the amphitheater and on the center's existing outdoor deck.

Among those participating in the indoor ceremony held at the center's Ned Smith Gallery were:

- Dan Hottenstein, board of trustees member, spoke of the pillar of "knowledge." Hottenstein said the center brings together representatives of natural history, conservation, education, science, nature and the arts. He poured charcoal sand into the bottom of the dish.

- Janelle Wommer, environmental educator with Audubon, said her experience at the center "helped to shape me into the educator I am." Wommer poured cranberry sand into the mix, representing "discovery" Janelle, originally from Millersburg and a 2013 Delaware Valley graduate, reported her grandfather, Gordon Wommer, was a friend of Ned Smith. Wommer had interned with Beth Sanders and worked for parks in Harrisburg and at the National Zoo.

- Beth E. Sanders, the center's director of education, said when visitors ask to see the education room, she takes them outside, into the center's 500 acres of habitat. She quoted from the phrase: "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand." She said education matters. "I applaud the initial leadership to begin this project," Sanders said. She added platinum sand to the bowl, representing "education".

- John D. Laskowski, member of the board of trustees/education committee, stressed the need to "get our visitors to notice all that we have to offer." He poured blue sand into the mix, representing "nature."

- Scott Weidensaul, collections curator/Saw-Whet Owl Program coordinator, said the collective "citizen science" that has been under way has raised the center's standing nationally, and noted the hundreds of volunteers who assist with the owl banding project. He added gold sand, representing "research."

- Scott R. Bills, land manager with the Pa. Game Commission and chair of the center's Lands & Trails Committee, encouraged continued conservation efforts and "teaching to future generations." He poured green sand into the mix, representing "conservation."

- Raymond and Linda Enders, members of the center's Arts & Entertainment Committee, spoke of the amphitheater plan to expand the arts program and reaching an even greater audience. "Ned had a musical side," Raymond told the crowd. He said Ned's wife, Marie, asked him if he knew that Ned played the clarinet in the American Legion Boys' Band. Marie also enjoyed playing the piano, he said.

"They had a deep appreciation of art and music," he said. Linda took a line from the Broadway hit "Pippin" in addressing those gathered for the celebration.

"Gotta find my corner of the sky," she said, as the pair added the final indigo layer to the display bowl, representing the "arts."

Campaign co-chair

Kauffman spoke about the late Dr. Grace M. Pollock, another co-chair for the amphitheater campaign.

"She was a character onto herself," Kauffman said, noting Pollock was also "stunningly beautiful and well-educated." Frank Sourbeer also served as honorary campaign chair.

Quigley praised the co-chairs for their efforts over the past seven years and spoke of their "vision" and "determination" in seeing the project through. At the conclusion, Quigley presented DeSoto and Kauffman with toy backhoes, amid a round of applause.

Those gathered in the audience included Christine Aumiller, choreographer with the Pennsylvania Regional Ballet.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this," said Aumiller. The ballet company is a cultural partner with the Ned Smith Center.

Amphitheater design

The center's website offers more detail on the amphitheater, stating it's "designed for construction on the hillside below the center. The permanent seating will be stair-stepped into the hillside, creating wide grass platforms upon which visitors can sit on blankets, lawn chairs or cushions. The seating area is connected directly to the existing patio and dining terrace.

"The stage will be flanked by wings that also allow access to the lower level. A custom-designed curtain system will 'screen' the wings when necessary, 'frame' the natural views of the mountain when open and be removed in the off-season," the website said. "Beneath the stage, there is a storage area complete with restroom facilities, giving the space the flexibility to become a dressing area for performers and presenters. This same restroom will remain open 24/7 for our visitors using our 12-mile hiking trail system."

According to the site, the ultimate vision for the amphitheater is a dynamic and vibrant gathering place where audiences will come together for inspiration, enrichment and education.