Feature- Watershed Volunteers Create A Legacy Of Cleaner, Healthier Rivers And Streams
Protection of Western Pennsylvania’s rivers, streams and lakes begins at the local level, with residents who care deeply about the future of their water resources.
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy works with a network of busy volunteers who sacrifice sleep and leisure time to restore and protect their local waterways. In many cases, these volunteers get involved with WPC through small, grassroots conservation organizations that partner with WPC to accomplish shared goals.
Armstrong County children may know John Linkes as the giant bumblebee who creates an anti-litter buzz at the Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center open house every spring. But even when he’s not in his mascot getup, Linkes keeps plenty busy in his work with the Roaring Run and Kiskiminetas watershed associations. He’s a board member of each group and a hands-on volunteer.
“We acquired land along the Kiskiminetas and reclaimed many of the 600 acres, which were covered with litter,” Linkes said. “We also reclaimed a mining portal area on Roaring Run that had a whole bunch of old mining equipment on it and problems with acid mine drainage.”
Two large culverts were removed from Roaring Run and plans are in the works to connect the adjacent rail trail to the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal.
While Linkes praised WPC for helping to make these projects possible, his volunteer commitment is at the core of their success, according to Ben Wright, assistant director of WPC’s Watershed Conservation Program.
“John’s one of the most dedicated volunteers I know. He’ll work the midnight shift at the steel mill and be out on the stream picking up tires at eight in the morning.” “That’s why nothing gets done at home,” Linkes said with a laugh, although his wife Susan gives him her blessing. “We’ve been members of the Conservancy for 25 years and do a lot of camping. For us, it’s all about conserving the outdoors.”
Pam Meade attended her first Cowanshannock Creek Watershed Association meeting when she moved to an old farm near Rural Valley, Armstrong County, with a stream that meandered through her 100-acre woods. Recently widowed with a young son, Meade was beginning a new chapter in her life.
“I went to one of their meetings and like a giant vortex, it sucked me in,” she said with a robust laugh. “Some of the same people also worked for the Crooked Creek Watershed Association and they needed a warm body, too, so I got involved with their board of directors.”
Meade’s self-effacing attitude belies her single-minded vision when it comes to protecting Armstrong County’s water and woods. Over the past 20 years, this now-retired preschool owner helped both watershed associations to grow, with invaluable help from WPC.
“The grant money WPC makes available through the Watershed Conservation Program has been tremendously helpful for small volunteer groups,” said Meade, who is now president of the Cowanshannock watershed group. “We’ve received mini-grants for creating brochures, purchasing native plants, educating township workers about stream design and bank stabilization, and just a range of other activities.”
Although she doesn’t earn a penny for her watershed work, Meade says the payoff is priceless.
“Cowanshannock used to run red and dead and now it’s stocked with trout,” she said. “When we got it cleaned up, one old timer said, ‘I thought it was supposed to be red.’ Hearing that makes all of this worthwhile.”
Even as a student at Penn State University, Michael Holiday would travel home to Indiana, Pa. to work on projects on Little Mahoning Creek, a trout-stocked High Quality Coldwater Stream he enjoyed fishing.
When he graduated with a degree in environmental studies in 2007, he joined the fledgling Little Mahoning Creek Watershed Association as vice president, a volunteer position where he knew he could make a big difference.
“The creek is a gem that has somehow not been impacted by the mining disturbances all around it, although we had a lot of work to do on erosion and sedimentation and bank stabilization,” he said.
Through its alliance with WPC and other partners, this watershed association has made great strides in meeting those goals and others, including the collection of 34 tons of trash near the creek’s headwaters in Rochester Mills, Holiday said. “The Conservancy’s technical assistance and funding not only make our work possible, having their support draws people in.”
Volunteering has been part of Holiday’s life since he was 12. As an avid hunter, angler and all-around outdoorsman, he finds his watershed work especially rewarding.
“I like knowing that what I do today is going to have a good effect on tomorrow and on people I may never meet,” said Holiday, who, at 27, is already eager to inspire the next generation of volunteers. “One of my inside goals is to get young people involved in caring for the environment.”
Reprinted from the Western PA Conservancy's Spring 2010 Conserve Magazine
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