DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians: Andre Weltman, Friends Of Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Andre Weltman is the Chairman of the Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park [Cumberland County] whose love of history and the outdoors fuels a passion for volunteering.
Andre was among a group of local citizens who answered a call from the park to form a Friends Group.
At first, he was unsure what a Friends Group even was. Now, as chairman, he helps coordinate the group’s board as they organize and support volunteers in conjunction with the park manager and environmental education events, like Earth Day.
A major ongoing goal is raising money for park improvements, including installing playgrounds, hiking bridges, and a new kayak “EZ-Dock” at Laurel Lake, among many other projects.
To raise money, the group sells a range of merchandise at the park office and holds an annual half-marathon and 5K. Volunteers work hard all year long to split firewood to sell in the park campground -- a service to campers and another major source of income for the Friends.
The biggest event of the year is the two-day Fall Furnace Fest, an arts, crafts, and history festival every October, which includes the famous “Hairy Hand” at Fuller Lake.
During the festival, Andre leads a crew of “living history” reenactors using local oak to make charcoal, the historic fuel for smelting iron.
Almost all of what is now the Michaux State Forest was cut down repeatedly in the 19th century for charcoal, and evidence of that industrial use of the forest is still present today.
“I never guessed I would conduct dozens of public tours and lectures each year in a 19th century costume interpreting iron and charcoal making, as well as more academic investigations of the area’s rich industrial heritage,” Andre says.
Originally from New York City, Andre and his wife moved to Pennsylvania in 1997 and settled into the South Mountain area. Despite his city origins, he has always been interested in the outdoors.
“As a teenager visiting the famous National Parks out west, and when camping with my father in upstate New York, I saw how wonderful it is that this country has large tracts of conserved public lands,” he explains.
For 24 years, Andre has worked as a Public Health Physician at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. He has worked on all sorts of infectious disease issues, including foodborne outbreaks, meningitis, and rabies -- he is retiring next year. “Which means I’ll have even more time to volunteer at our state park,” he says.
Andre has always been interested in history, but prior to living in Pennsylvania, he had no real knowledge of the iron industry. Despite this, Andre has embraced the area’s history and culture.
“We mostly wanted a place to “get away from it all,” explains Andre. “I could not have guessed how involved I’d eventually become with this jewel of the South Mountain landscape."
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[Posted: September 4, 2019]
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