Western PA Conservation Leaders and Environmental Projects to be Honored

March 25, 2019


Contact: Sally Tarhi, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Phone: 412-481-9400
Email: [email protected]

Western PA Conservation Leaders and Environmental Projects to be Honored


Pittsburgh – Two conservation leaders and two environmental projects from the Western Pennsylvania area will share $20,000 from Dominion Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) for their innovation and contributions the environment.

They are this year’s winners of the 2019 Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, presented annually to local organizations or individuals that demonstrate leadership, effectiveness, and results in making an impact on the environment. 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.

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.

With these awards, each winner will designate a $5,000 cash prize to be used in support of a nonprofit environmental program of their choice.

The 2019 winners 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)
  • Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps (Harrisburg, Dauphin County) 

In addition to these four organizations, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will present a lifetime achievement award to Ron Steffey, the former executive director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust in Kittanning.

The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards program is open to individuals, businesses, and organizations that demonstrated a commitment to environmental excellence, leadership and accomplishment, and made significant contributions toward improving Western Pennsylvania’s environment. Dominion Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council sponsor the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards each year to encourage the community to emulate the achievements of the winning entries, thereby promoting innovative environmental efforts and enhancing the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania.

The winners will be honored at the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards Dinner and Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at The Westin Pittsburgh in downtown Pittsburgh.


About the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards

The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards recognizes and honors outstanding achievements of organizations, businesses, and individuals in a wide range of environmental initiatives throughout the region and pays tribute to those that have demonstrated a commitment to environmental excellence, leadership, and accomplishment in their respective fields.

By sponsoring these awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Dominion Energy hope to encourage the community to emulate the achievements of the successful nominees, thereby promoting innovative environmental efforts and enhancing the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania.

About Dominion Energy

Nearly 7.5 million customers in 18 states energize their homes and businesses with electricity or natural gas from Dominion Energy (NYSE: D), headquartered in Richmond, Va. The company is committed to sustainable, reliable, affordable and safe energy and is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy with about $100 billion of assets providing electric generation, transmission and distribution, as well as natural gas storage, transmission, distribution and import/export services. As one of the nation’s leading solar operators, the company intends to reduce its carbon intensity 60 percent by 2030. Through its Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, as well as EnergyShare and other programs, Dominion Energy contributed nearly $35 million in 2018 to community causes. Please visit www.dominionenergy.com to learn more.

About the Pennsylvania Environmental Council

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is a statewide organization that brings people, government, and business together to find real world solutions for environmental challenges. These solutions bring about sustainable communities, protect our water resources, and address energy and climate issues. PEC was founded in 1970 and serves the entire state through offices in Luzerne, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, visit its website at www.pecpa.org.

Note to Editors: A summary of each winner with contact information follows.

2019 Winners

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.


Susan Crookston, Executive Director
Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Inc.
[email protected]
(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.


Luke DeGroote, Avian Research Coordinator
[email protected]
(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.


Annie Socci
Executive Director, Foundation for Sustainable Forests
[email protected]
(814) 694-5830


Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps
Harrisburg, Dauphin County

The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps grew out of Governor 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% non-white and 40% 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.


Mike Piaskowski, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
[email protected]
(717) 772-0249


Lifetime Achievement Award

Ron Steffey, former Executive Director
Allegheny Valley Land Trust

Known as “the face and heart of the Armstrong Trail,” Ron Steffey found his calling as an influential trailbuilder 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.