Nearly 60 family members, friends and others who admired and loved Dr. Colson E. “Doc” Blakeslee gathered with the Western Pennsylvsania Conservancy (WPC) in Elk County on June 27 to remember and honor his commitment to conservation. The gathering was for the dedication of a new natural area named in Blakeslee’s memory.
Blakeslee loved people, the outdoors and the environment, and shared these interests regularly with others. A physician in DuBois, Pa., he was passionate about conservation efforts throughout Northwestern Pennsylvania and connected physical health with the wellbeing of the environment. He was a tireless advocate for the restoration of the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek and believed increasing public access to this remediated creek was important for both local residents and visitors. Blakeslee was a WPC board member from 1979 until his death in 2011, a founding member of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and a board member of the Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Blakeslee’s children, Mark and Marsha, and their families shook hands and thanked people – many of whom knew and/or worked closely with Blakeslee – at the dedication ceremony to officially open the 24-acre nature area. The forested expanse, now known as the Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area, hosts a segment of the Bennett Branch and is open to the public for fishing, hiking, hunting and wildlife viewing. Mark said their father taught them both to love and appreciate the outdoors, including Pennsylvania’s rivers and wildlife.
“Marsha and I can remember our father’s love for fishing, fly fishing and hunting,” Mark explained. “As young children, we were taught to be good stewards of the beautiful land in Pennsylvania and he encouraged us to dream big. We are so grateful to the Conservancy for the challenges and opportunities it gave my dad. This is a wonderful tribute to a man who we dearly loved. He was the greatest example of a Godly life well-lived.”
Many others at the event also recalled Blakeslee’s kindness, humble and calm demeanor, and his uncanny ability to bring people together around a common goal and cause.
Tom Saunders, president and CEO of WPC, said that every experience he had with Blakeslee was wonderful, and described him as warm, nurturing, passionate and unassuming with a remarkable tenacity. Saunders told the crowd about one of his first interactions with Blakeslee.
“He called me and said ‘why don’t you come up for a day and look at the Bennett Branch, and I think you’ll appreciate what you’ll see’,” Saunders fondly recalled. “What he didn’t say, however, was that there would be several local officials and partners joining us on the tour, and all of them knew all of the reasons why the Conservancy should invest in the Bennett Branch.”
Current WPC Board Member William Conrad, who traveled with Blakeslee to Pittsburgh for board meetings, reflected on Blakeslee’s passion for the environment and desire to remediate the stream for water quality and recreation.
“He had a vision for this valley and this stream to renew it to its once pristine condition,” said Conrad, who is also the executive director of the Stackpole-Hall Foundation. “He cared very deeply about this part of Pennsylvania and it is very touching to have so many people here to open such a beautiful property in his memory and honor.”
Eric Cavazza, P.E., director of the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation at the PA Department of Environmental Protection, also spoke at the event and provided a decades-long history of the Bennett Branch’s remediation efforts.
This new natural area, which includes a small parking area, is located off Route 555 in Elk County near the Medix Run Hotel at 23155 Quehanna Highway, Weedville, Pa., 15868 (view a map of the area here). A memorial plaque and visitor signage are mounted at the trailhead to provide more information on Blakeslee, as well as uses for the area.
Caption for the first photo: Dr. Blakeslee’s daughter Marsha (center) and son Mark (far right) were among the family members present at the dedication.