"Celebrating Volunteers"

Passion for the outdoors fuels hardworking land stewardship volunteers

Properties owned and managed by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy require regular maintenance and monitoring in order to protect and enhance their conservation value. Volunteer land stewards play a critical role in supporting this work — serving as the arms and legs, and sometimes the eyes and ears — of WPC on our conserved properties. These volunteers thrive on removing invasive plants, building footpaths through forests and wetlands, and walking WPC properties to ensure they are used appropriately by visitors.

Dick Pellek
Dick Pellek

Dick Pellek
Coraopolis resident Dick Pellek was retired just one week when he started volunteering for WPC. This 71-year old forester and natural resources specialist had lived and worked all over the world, from Vietnam to Haiti to the Comoros Islands, and served a stint in the Peace Corps. When Pellek turned to volunteering full-time again last year, he searched for opportunities that would allow him to work outdoors and use his considerable expertise. WPC offered an ideal fit. “He jumped in and proved to be an asset right away. His experience and knowledge brings a lot to our volunteer program,” said WPC’s Andy Zadnik, who recruited Pellek for a boundary marking project on a newly acquired forest tract near Sideling Hill Creek.

“That was especially enjoyable because of the nice variety of tall, very healthy trees,” said Pellek. At Erie Bluffs State Park, Pellek helped eradicate non-native flora, pronouncing it “hard but rewarding work,” and on the West Branch of French Creek, he helped build a rustic boardwalk at Lowville Fen. “They were Fraser firs from an abandoned Christmas tree plantation on the property and non-native to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We made good use of them in laying the log path.”

Although Pellek’s forte is forestry, he is an amateur geologist with a particular interest in glacial features. “One of the bonuses of my Conservancy work is that I get to see rocks in areas I might not otherwise get to,” said Pellek.

Roberta Gorman
Roberta Gorman

Don and Roberta Gorman
Don and Roberta Gorman of Erie think nothing of hopping onto their bikes and riding 30 miles to explore new places. A passion for the outdoors also fuels the work they do as longtime volunteers for WPC.

“We’re just ordinary people who believe in what the Conservancy does and want to help them in their effort,” said Roberta, who, with Don, has been a WPC member for the past 50 years. “We do a lot of camping, so just knowing we’re preserving the land for generations to come is a really wonderful feeling.”

Although they’ve traveled as far as Elk and Fayette counties to work on WPC projects, an increasing WPC presence in northwest Pennsylvania is keeping them busy closer to home. They recently took on the challenge of helping monitor 500 acres around Lake Pleasant, an ecologically valuable glacial gem popular with anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts. As members of the North Coast Striders walking club, the Gormans often combine their stewardship patrols with other outings.

They’ve also removed invasive plants at Erie Bluffs State Park, cleaned up a dump site near the West Branch of French Creek, and helped install the trail at Lowville Fen. “The Conservancy cut down the trees and we peeled the bark and helped lay the logs. It was labor-intensive, but we loved it,” Roberta said. “It’s nice to know we’re making the area more accessible.”

From left: WPC staff member Rosie Wise, Bob Janesko, Louise and Jim Sprowls, Don and Roberta Gorman.
From left: WPC staff member Rosie Wise, Bob Janesko, Louise and Jim Sprowls, Don and Roberta Gorman.

Jim and Louise Sprowls
If it’s a Saturday, you’re likely to find Jim and Louise Sprowls carrying logs, pulling weeds, or hiking purposefully on land conserved by WPC. Although these veteran volunteers from Stahlstown have plenty to do around their own 58-acre property, last year they participated in practically every stewardship workday between Bedford and Erie.

They helped to build the trail at Lowville Fen, and planted bulbs and other perennials at Fallingwater. As stewards of Bear Run Nature Reserve, they routinely walk the trails and help to keep an eye on things. They have even helped to quickly notify the Conservancy of serious issues, such as timber theft and ATV trespass.

“We’ve been doing this since 1991 because we both believe strongly in what the Conservancy stands for and does,” said Jim. “We try to donate financial support, but that’s limited for us, so we contribute as much time as we can.”

It’s about fostering a love of the outdoors, Louise said. “Anything we can do to encourage others to get outside and enjoy nature gives us great satisfaction.”

The couple has two Irish Wolfhounds and a young Bouvier de Flanders, Tague, who sometimes tags along on WPC outings, including the thank-you potluck for volunteers at Bear Run last November. Although it was the final official event of the season, the camaraderie continues for the Sprowls year-round. “We’ve made some great friends through volunteering,” said Louise. “We don’t get together for projects in winter, but we meet them for breakfast twice a month.”

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