Winners Of PEC, Dominion Energy 2019 Western PA Environmental Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award Honored

On May 22, Dominion Energy and the PA Environmental Council honored the winners of the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award at a special celebration in Pittsburgh.

The four Western PA Environmental Award winners -- two conservation leaders and two environmental projects-- are--

-- Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Inc. (Aspinwall, Allegheny County);

-- Lucas W. DeGroote, Powdermill Nature Reserve (Rector, Westmoreland County);

-- Troy Firth, Foundation for Sustainable Forests (Spartansburg, Crawford County); and

-- Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps (Harrisburg, Dauphin County).

The winners will share $20,000 from Dominion Energy to be used to support a nonprofit environmental program of their choice.

The winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Ron Steffey, the former executive director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust in Kittanning.

Known as “the face and heart of the Armstrong Trail,” Ron Steffey found his calling as an influential trail builder literally by accident.

A mining engineer by training, Mr. Steffey was working as a foreman when a mine accident ended his career. As part of his recovery plan, Mr. Steffey took to the Armstrong Trail for exercise.

Once he became a regular trail user, he was motivated to help work on the trail through the AmeriCorps program. His dedication and passion for the trail soon led to his appointment as Executive Director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, which owns and maintains the Armstrong and Redbank Valley trails.

Under Mr. Steffey’s leadership, 80 miles of the Armstrong and Redbank Valley Trails have been transformed from inactive railroad corridors to one of Pennsylvania’s most spectacular trail systems.

In his selfless service to these trails, Mr. Steffey secured $5 million in grant funding and recruited and trained an army of volunteers, including young people, to help perform the necessary work in trail building.

Western PA Awards

These winning programs reflect many of the environmental priorities of this region as they address forest management and conservation, wildlife conservation, land use, and environmental stewardship throughout Western Pennsylvania.

All four were chosen by a group of independent judges, environmental experts, and PEC staff in response to a call for nominations earlier this year.

Here’s more on each award winner--

-- Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Inc. (Aspinwall, Allegheny County): Aspinwall Riverfront Park is an 11-acre urban park located along the Allegheny River just outside the City of Pittsburgh.

In a little more than six months, several foundations, corporations, and over 3,000 people raised the $2.3 million needed to buy the property. A full-service marina was subsequently repurposed as the park’s Welcome Center.

The space now hosts Venture Outdoors, weekly classes, and a theater group. The park provides public river access, and offers a place to fish and kayak for thousands of local residents.

Allegheny Riverfront Park partners with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania to offer free public classes on native birds, and local gardeners have held several public tours of the property.

Since the project’s inception, Aspinwall Riverfront Park has been able to generate its own maintenance funds through businesses on the site, an endowment, and an annual public appeal. In total, the park is projected to generate $125,000 in earned revenue this year.

Contact: Susan Crookston, Executive Director, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Inc.,, 412-298-1196

-- Lucas W. DeGroote, Powdermill Nature Reserve (Rector, Westmoreland County): Luke DeGroote is the coordinator for the long-term bird-banding program at Powdermill Nature Reserve.

Since joining Powdermill in 2012, Mr. DeGroote has expanded regional bird conservation in Western Pennsylvania by forming major partnerships and initiating new programs that extend throughout North America and the world.

He was instrumental in founding the BirdSafe Pittsburgh program to create a bird-friendly city. He was also the force behind the Allegheny Bird Conservation Alliance.

Mr. DeGroote leads a team that assesses new formulations of glass or films to help industry develop “birdsmart” glass that is visible as a surface to birds, but still functions as a clear window.

Because of his work in this area, seven companies in the US, Canada, and Europe now have bird-safe glass on the market today.

Luke DeGroote’s research and programs have supported 54 apprentices and employees from as far as Alaska, Colombia, Peru, and the United Kingdom.

Contact: Luke DeGroote, Avian Research Coordinator,,  724-593-7521

-- Troy Firth, Foundation for Sustainable Forests (Spartansburg, Crawford County): As a practicing forester in northwestern Pennsylvania, Troy Firth created the Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF) in 2004, a nonprofit land trust that protects sustainable working forests and highlights healthy forest practices for the benefit of the land.

Since its inception, the FSF has helped forest landowners and other conservation organizations overcome some of the challenges of forest management.

Mr. Firth the FSF are slowly helping the community to understand that a forest left “untouched” is still prone to invasive species and the impacts of climate change, and that thoughtful, proactive management can improve the overall health and vigor of a forest.

In his professional career, Troy Firth has played a role in the management of over 100,000 acres of forest in the region.

To date, the FSF has protected over 1,000 acres of forested land and is nearing completion of projects totaling over 1,000 additional acres.

Contact: Annie Socci, Executive Director, Foundation for Sustainable Forests,,  814-694-5830

-- Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps (Harrisburg, Dauphin County): The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps grew out of Gov. Tom Wolf’s desire to engage young people and DCNR’s focus on sustainability and the need to cultivate a diverse, inclusive, strong and engaged community of stakeholders.

Concerned with an imbalance in diversity within environmental disciplines, DCNR and its partners set out to build a program to engage a young and diverse workforce in service to the environment.

To date, the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps has engaged over 475 young people across the state in conservation service work. Its membership is just under 40 percent non-white and 40 percent female, with the youth corps being the more ethnically diverse group in the program.

In 2018, the Outdoor Corps completed projects in 28 state parks, 13 forest districts and 7 municipalities throughout Western Pennsylvania. Youth and young-adults ages 15 to 25 mobilized in eight program cities to attack the $1 billion backlog in park and forest needs.

Contact: Mike Piaskowski, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,,  717-772-0249.

For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, PEC Bill/Regulation Tracker, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.


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[Posted: May 23, 2019]


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