Wildlands Conservancy’s Friend of the Lehigh River Award Recipients Announced

The Wildlands Conservancy this week announced the winners of the 2011 Friend of the Lehigh River Award: Tom Kerr, past president of Wildlands Conservancy; Greg Weitzel, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Allentown; and the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association.

            The awards will be presented during the closing ceremony of Wildlands Conservancy’s 15th Annual Lehigh River Sojourn at the Allentown Brew Works on June 27 from 6:30 – 10:00 p.m. 
            The Friend of the Lehigh River award is Wildlands Conservancy’s annual acknowledgment of individuals, groups, organizations, businesses, institutions, or governmental entities who deserve to be recognized for their commitment to preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Lehigh River and its watershed. 
            “The preservation and protection of one of the Lehigh Valley’s most vital resources is a collaborative effort among many individuals, organizations, and government entities.  This award allows Wildlands Conservancy to applaud those who make a conscious effort to either protect the Lehigh River or educate others on its importance” says Christopher Kocher, president of Wildlands Conservancy.
            Here is more detail on each recipient:

Tom Kerr, past president of Wildlands Conservancy:  Tom Kerr has been a leader in the local conservation field for more than 30 years. As the past president of Wildlands Conservancy, Tom led the organization to met the environmental challenges facing the rapidly growing area of eastern Pennsylvania resulting in the protection of more than 45,000 acres of open space, outdoor programs educating more than 300,000 individuals, and the restoration of more than 5 miles of waterways.      
            During Kerr’s tenure, the organization began the significant undertaking of remediating the Lehigh River’s most significant source of degradation – abandon mine drainage. The first one-and-a-half acre wetland was constructed to allow the metal to precipitate out of the water before it enters the River and to-date two more projects have been completed.
            Kerr’s love of the outdoors – especially the Lehigh River – was evident in everything he did. He shared his passion of canoeing with community leaders, government officials and the general public to help foster an understanding of environmental issues facing the Lehigh River.
            This led to the creation of the “Bike & Boat Program.” The program, now in its eleventh year, has involved thousands learning about the ecosystem and history of the Lehigh River watershed by canoeing down the Lehigh River and then biking back to the start on the towpath along the canal. 
            Kerr’s love of the Lehigh River continued by leading the organization to host the first Lehigh River Sojourn, a state-wide program to host multi-day paddling trips on Pennsylvania’s waterways; and the development of the Lehigh River Water Trail, an interactive website featuring information to help get people out to safely experience the Lehigh River. Kerr’s legacy will be felt for many generations, as his work has protected the local environment and added to the quality of life in eastern Pennsylvania.

Greg Weitzel, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Allentown: As director of parks and recreation for the City of Allentown, Weitzel wanted to not only maintain the park system, but to implement ecological restoration of the City’s expansive park system, and consequently, many of the Lehigh Valley’s waterways.
            Weitzel partnered with Wildlands Conservancy to implement streamside best management practices for the City of Allentown Parks by establishing “Grow  Zones.” Grow Zones are areas along waterways that are intentionally unmowed to allow the streamside vegetation to grow, helping improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat.  Along with this initiative, the Parks and Recreation staff tackle the daunting task of removing invasive plants throughout the parks.
            Weitzel worked with Wildlands Conservancy to help implement numerous conservation projects and through this partnership $300,000 in grant funds have been brought to the Lehigh Valley to make the local area a better place to work, live and play.
            With Weitzel’s support, Wildlands Conservancy has been able to move forward the organization’s dam removal agenda and is currently planning for the removal of seven dams in the park system opening up the waterways for migratory fish passage.
            Wildlands Conservancy is also working on two large-scale stream restoration projects in the City’s park system– one at Trout Creek Park and one at Jordan Park – to help return the stream channels and floodplains to its natural state to encourage the return of wildlife. The important conservation projects taking place within the City limits are vast changes from previous schools of thought. 
            Understanding these feelings, Weitzel devotes considerable effort to public environmental education and outreach by conducting public meetings, publishing educational articles, installing informative signs, hosting volunteer events, soliciting support from community leaders, and providing training for the entire Parks and Recreation Department staff. 
            Weitzel’s extraordinary commitment to the conservation of our land and waterways has served as a model for other area municipalities. His leadership has enabled the beginning of meaningful environmental improvements to the third largest city in the state.

Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association: The Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association is committed to protecting and improving the water resources and quality of life for the tens-of-thousands of people who live, work and play in the boroughs and townships that encompass the nearly 80-square-mile region drained by the Bertsch, Hokendauqua, and Catasauqua creeks, and adjacent streams in the northern end of the Lehigh River Valley.
            In just its first two years, the BHCWA has made vast improvements and efforts to the water quality for people and wildlife alike throughout it’s multi-municipal region. The volunteer-led organization has conducted four streambank cleanups on the Hokendauqua and Indian creeks; restored the streambank and fish habitat on the Hokendauqua Creek; conducted surface water assessments on the Catasauqua Creek and bacteria assessments on the Hokendauqua and Indian creeks.
            The group is currently working on two riparian buffer projects on power line crossing on the Indian and Hokendauqua creeks and developing a cold-water conservation plan for the Bertsch and Hokendauqua Creek watersheds.
            The Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua watershed region’s recreational resources, like the Lehigh River, the world-famous Appalachian Trail, state game lands, a county park and many municipal parks and open spaces, provide abundant opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation and exercise. 
            The Association values public education as one of the most important components of watershed protection and organizes community education and outdoor recreation programs throughout the year.  Officers Chris Amato and Jim Wilson will be accepting the award.
            The work of the Bertsch-Hokendauqua-Catasauqua Watershed Association will have a lasting positive impact on the water resources of the region and on the stewardship the community shows towards its natural resources.


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