Westmoreland County Conservation District Presents Conservation Awards Sept. 14

On September 14 the Westmoreland County Conservation District will present two awards for outstanding conservation service – the Conservation Farmer of the Year Award to the Stahl family of Smithton and the J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award to Larry Larese.

The program will be held at the District’s location on Donohoe Road and will run from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

2016 Conservation Farmers of the Year — The Stahl Family

Not far from the Youghiogheny River in Smithton, three generations of the Stahl family have turned 160 tough acres into a model conservation farm.

(Photo: Stahl Family: Sister and brother Melissa and Jason, parents Duane and Bonny.  Not pictured: Jason’s wife, Liz)

The terrain hasn’t made it easy.  The property is a series of quickly rising slopes, one more than 200 feet from bottom to top.

The soil hasn’t made it easy either.  It is only moderately suited for pasture and hay, and quite slow in permeability, so it never really dries out.

But the Stahls didn’t shrink from the challenges.  In 1975, grandfather Everett put contour strips on some of the hilltops so he could grow hay and corn and still keep the topsoil in place.

Everett’s contour strips remain today, well maintained with crop rotation and lime- and manure-spreading, and continuing to do a great job of limiting erosion.  Grandson Jason added his own conservation contribution about six years ago when he started using no-till practices to raise the farm’s corn crop.

The farm’s mud problem -- exacerbated by its steep slopes, predominant soil type, and a culvert that dumped water from the road right into the Stahl’s pasture -- presented an ongoing challenge to their cow calf herd.  “When the cows stood in the field, the mud was up to their bellies,” Jason said.

Dad Duane put in a diversion ditch some years ago, but the water problem was so big that it needed a large-scale, multi-pronged effort.  Several years ago, the Stahls were able to procure conservation funding and, guided by conservation plans and expert advice, that major work began.

The family added an apron of hard, angular rocks at the end of the culvert to direct the water, a new underground drain to carry it across the property, and two rock outlets to safely release it into either a pond or stream.

They also reconfigured all their pastures, creating 10 paddocks, each with a frost-free hydrant, so they can rotate their 100-animal herd.

A new 40’ X 130’ roofed heavy-use building provides shelter for the cows to have their calves and spend the winter.  Part of this roofed building is used for manure storage so that excess nutrients don’t find their way into either of the two streams that flow through the Stahl property on their way to the Youghiogheny River.

A new animal walkway, a stabilized access road, and a stream crossing completed the major four-year conservation project.

2016 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award — Larry Larese

This annual award is being presented to Larry Larese, who served for 39 years as Westmoreland County’s top economic development planner.

(Photo: Larry Larese)

Wearing two hats – as Director of the Westmoreland County Department of Planning and Development and as Executive Director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation – Larry created a legacy of practical development and conservation accomplishments that grew organically from the needs of the people of Westmoreland County.  In fact, he says his proudest moments have been those in which he was “able to help people have a better life.”

Larry got his first chance to do that very early in his early career when he helped bring municipal water service to the communities of Salina, Truxall, and Fitz Henry, which in the early 1970s still had either no reliable source of drinking water or had one that did not meet minimum, safe-drinking standards.

Born and raised in Export, Larry knew first-hand the impact of the coal industry on our natural resources and he served twice on the board of the Turtle Creek Watershed Association, helping with its work to clean up streams polluted with abandoned mine drainage.

In the early 1980s, when unemployment in the county hit 16 percent, Larry set out to grow jobs by creating industrial parks with sites that were easy for companies to build on. 

Today, there are 16 industrial parks throughout the county that are home to 142 companies employing 9,500 workers.

Larry made sure conservation was a major part of the industrial parks, adding landscaping, innovative stormwater management features, and permanently setting aside 25 to 30 percent of the land in each park as open space because “companies also want the things that contribute to a good quality of life.”

The District’s conservation campus is actually on one of the first county industrial park sites, and the organization is located there thanks in large part to Larry, who also oversaw the reclamation of four major brownfield sites in other parts of the county.

Larry undertook Westmoreland County’s first comprehensive plan in 2006, and when focus groups revealed that the public’s number one desire was to retain the rural character of Westmoreland County, he helped to form the Westmoreland Land Trust which, in eight years has conserved 235 acres of open space in six distinct Westmoreland County communities.

Larry’s perseverance overcame significant obstacles to create one of the county’s first trails, the Five Star Trail, and he was influential in the growth of the Regional Trail System.

Most recently, Larry continues to be a great friend to conservation even in his retirement.  He has been extremely helpful in two conservation projects on the Westmoreland County Community College campus that are investing upwards of a half million dollars to improve water quality in Cherry Creek.

The J. Roy Houston Partnership Award is sponsored by Peoples Natural Gas Company.  

Roy Houston was the volunteer chairman of the Westmoreland Conservation District for 40 years – the longest volunteer commitment in the District’s history. 

Roy worked for many years as marketing manager at Peoples Gas and it was that company’s commitment to employee volunteerism that introduced Roy to the Westmoreland Conservation District in 1968.     

Past winners of the  J. Roy Houston Partnership Award include:

-- The Westmoreland County Commissioners, past and present – 2012;

-- Jacobs Creek Watershed Association -- 2013;

-- Adam Eidemiller, Inc. -- 2014; and

-- The Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation – 2015.

For more information on programs, initiatives and other upcoming events, visit the Westmoreland County Conservation District website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the District (right panel).


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