In early October, a group of 18 appointed citizen members of the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council (CNRAC) spent three days touring the region known for outdoor recreation and natural beauty.
Drawing from diverse experiences and perspectives, council members advise the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Governor, the General Assembly, and the public on the conservation and stewardship of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. For many council members, this was their first introduction to the Laurel Highlands, and their first up-close look a regional initiative that goes well beyond the physical topography of the landscape: The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape (LHCL) works to stimulate community and economic development by connecting people to outdoor recreation and natural resources. LHCL is just one of seven large landscape programs led by DCNR in the Commonwealth. CNRAC’s visit to the Laurel Highlands was a prime opportunity to showcase the resources – natural, physical and human – that make the Conservation Landscape so remarkable.
The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape (LHCL) works to stimulate community and economic development by connecting people to outdoor recreation and natural resources.
Eager to show off their projects, various Landscape partners hosted CNRAC from September 18th to the 20th, 2017. The Council was first greeted by Laurel Hill Park Complex Manager Mike Mumau, who led them on a tour of the newly acquired Scenic View property and its exquisite views of the Laurel Ridge and surrounding park lands. Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) had acquired this property, then transferred ownership to DCNR Bureau of State Parks to make it a permanent addition to the Laurel Hill State Park Complex. The visit to Scenic View brilliantly exhibited the value of a Landscape approach that is able to capitalize on long-time DCNR partnerships with WPC and other conservancies, drawn together by a shared mission of land conservation.
Other highlights of the trip:
- Ed Callahan, district forester of Forbes State Forest, guided the group on an eco tour of Spruce Flats Bog, and explained the ecology and unique wildlife that make this bog a special type of wetland.
- Ohiopyle Park Manager Ken Bisbee wowed the group with a tour of the LEED Gold Certified visitor’s center that opened in 2014. The Center educates visitors on the significance of environmental awareness, and serves as a gateway to the Laurel Highlands that displays the region’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
- The group visited the Mount Davis overlook, the highest point in Pennsylvania, followed by a meeting with members of the PA Outdoor Corps.
- Council enjoyed a wine tasting and picnic at Christian Clay Winery where Donna Holdorf, Executive Director of the National Road, shared the story and the conservation efforts that preserve the significance of the Heritage Area.
The Laurel Highlands Visitor Bureau estimates that 2.8 million overnight tourists travel to the Laurel Highlands every year. It’s fair to say that the members of CNRAC experienced more than the average tourist of the Laurel Highlands would have over the span of three days. It’s hard to say what these individuals thought of their time in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but there is no question that the members of CNRAC witnessed the strong passion and drive that occurs behind the scenes, with the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape partners working together to make the Laurel Highlands the best place it can be.
The takeaway: conservation through cooperation creates a landscape where the sum is greater than the parts.