Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape
The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape works to stimulate community and economic development by connecting people to outdoor recreation and natural resources.
PEC has done some exciting community-based work in the traditional sense. For instance, we’ve led planning charrettes in Connellsville, Donegal, and Derry. These initiatives have energized and inspired people who continue to work toward these visions of how things might be.
But our most dynamic “community” work has involved broader communities. The Loyalhanna Creek community encompasses Ligonier, Latrobe, New Alexandria, and rural areas in between, all of whom have been touched by the Water Trail that PEC developed and the land trail we’re working on. The Stonycreek River community stretches from Hooversville and Hollsopple to Johnstown, but the “community” we touch here is far bigger than any one municipality. The “whitewater community” attracted to this neighborhood comes from all across the East, so the assets built here enhance the local quality of life but also have substantial, direct economic benefit.
By the same token, the area has a conservation community of thousands of individuals and a few dozen small watershed and conservancy groups, Trout Unlimited chapters, and various similar resource-based organizations. Each organization is its own local community. Collectively, this larger community has come together in the Laurel Highlands Conservation Coalition, which offers networking, education and advocacy, and works to build capacity for its local initiatives.
The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative works in Westmoreland, Fayette, Somerset, and Cambria Counties, with most of the work focused along four featured sub-landscapes: Laurel Ridge, Chestnut Ridge, the Great Allegheny Passage, and the Stonycreek-Quemahoning Initiative.
The program works with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and other state agencies, non-profits, local governments, and businesses to develop, conserve, improve, and promote the trails, parks, natural, and cultural or historic assets in these areas.
Our projects include development of new trails or trail segments, such as the proposed Loyalhanna Trail at New Alexandria and a missing link on the Path of the Flood Trail near Johnstown. The Youghiogheny and Loyalhanna Water Trails were both produced through this program along with “smart transportation” projects in Ohiopyle and Johnstown, as well as a green-streets/stormwater management project in Ohiopyle, to name just a few.
We also were instrumental in creating the Laurel Highlands Conservation Coalition, which has brought together dozens of small watershed, conservancy, Trout Unlimited and wildlife-advocacy groups, conservation districts, and others. The coalition’s programs aim to be educational and provide networking opportunities across the region.
Planning has also been an important component of our work and has included development of a Joint Master Plan and Implementation Strategy with Ohiopyle Borough and Ohiopyle State Park.
Portal to the Laurel Highlands
PEC works with both the State Park and the borough to improve their sustainability and improve the experience for park visitors. More than $7.5 million has been attracted for signature projects.
Building from a planning charrette, PEC obtained a $250,000 grant for the first-ever joint master plan between a community and a state park in 2009. With a population of just over 70, the joint master plan helped to sustain the Ohiopyle Borough that attracts over 1.5 million people annually.
Several signature projects identified in the joint master plan and implementation strategy have been completed, including a $1.9 million “smart transportation” project, making it safer to cross Route 381 between Ohiopyle Falls and the business community. Additionally, a $1.3 million “green streets” stormwater management project, a $1.1 million project to eliminate stormwater infiltration into the sewage-treatment plant, and a $4 million grant to support development of a new visitors center were established.
On a smaller scale, several grants totaling $230,000 rebuilt a park in the middle of town with a play area for kids, a pavilion for entertainment, and stormwater-management features. A $10,000 grant enabled the borough to update its zoning ordinance while a $5,000 grant facilitated an energy workshop. Technical assistance with the borough’s budget and administrative procedures was provided through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s peer-review process.
Moving forward, we continue to work toward a Phase II Green Streets project for other parts of the borough, development of a renewable energy project, parking improvements, and other initiatives.
Lift Johnstown is building walkable neighborhoods with trails to parks and historic sites, establishing an emerging cultural district, and reinforcing innovative entrepreneurial-development efforts.
Lift Johnstown evolved as the implementation strategy of three plans; one on the City of Johnstown, one on attracting young people to the region, and one on promoting the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape.
Since then, an amazing number of projects have been accomplished. A greenhouse in an urban park sprouted seedlings that were transplanted to 14 outside community gardens, providing food to a co-op store in a low-income neighborhood where programs are offered on healthy eating. Allegheny Adventure X-Fest was created to showcase the wide array of outdoor opportunities in the region, including some of the best whitewater boating in the East. A “smart transportation” project now better connects people into downtown Johnstown, where a $2 million grant was awarded to develop an education center and restaurant. Over 90 blighted structures have been removed, while a sculpture park was created. Pillars on an elevated bypass now feature bright art, as opposed to drab concrete.
An annual volunteer-recruitment party has connected 87 non-profits with more than 800 volunteers, and a dedicated web site features on-going listings of volunteer opportunities.