In Memoriam Joshua C. Whetzel

Thu, Jan 26th 2012, 13:32. Filed under News Releases.

Joshua C. Whetzel Jr.We are saddened to report that past president and board chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a visionary leader in land and water conservation, passed away Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at the age of 90.

Joshua C. Whetzel Jr. served as president of the Conservancy from 1969 to 1978, after which he served as chairman of the Conservancy’s board of directors until 1995.

During his tenure, Whetzel led the vision for the way the Conservancy acquired and protected land. He challenged the Conservancy to purchase and conserve large landscapes, an uncommon practice for land conservation organizations in the 1970s. He also advocated for protected lands to be accessible to the public for recreation.

Whetzel was an active proponent of state and federal environmental protections during the 1970s when the country dramatically increased its focus on environmental policy. He was a committed conservationist with a science background who provided a strong voice as new federal policies were being drafted and deliberated. During this time the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) were among the federal acts enacted.

Joshua and his wife Farley have generously supported numerous environmental and conservation initiatives in Pennsylvania and across the nation that have had a profound impact on the protection of the nation’s natural resources.

In particular, Whetzel had a vision for land conservation in the Laurel Highlands, where the Conservancy has now protected more than 80,000 acres.

Under his leadership, WPC assembled 9,500 acres of wild mountain lands along the west slope of Laurel Ridge in Westmoreland and Somerset counties. Known as the Mountain Streams project, this wild area has three high-quality streams and includes the 3,000-acre Roaring Run Natural Area, a habitat containing rare plants and animals in Forbes State Forest.

In 1973, when the Western Maryland Railway shut down its rail system from Cumberland, Md. to Connellsville, Whetzel recognized the value of these long corridors of green space as ideal locations for trails. Whetzel and John C. Oliver, who later became the Conservancy’s next president, worked with Western Maryland executives to create a plan for the preservation of 25 miles of rail corridor near Ohiopyle. This ultimately became the first segment of the Great Allegheny Passage, which now runs from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh.

In 1977, Whetzel initiated a major effort to conserve land along the Clarion River. Since then, the Conservancy has protected more than 12,000 acres there along the river, some of which is now designated as scenic and recreational under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Other major accomplishments during Whetzel’s tenure at the Conservancy included acquisition of the 11,000-acre Cherry Run Game Reserve east of State College and extensive protection of the Allegheny River including many of its islands.

Whetzel played a key role in establishing Fallingwater as a major tourist destination by developing a comprehensive visitors’ program. He was instrumental in engaging Edgar Kaufmann jr. in helping to develop educational programming and preservation protocols at Fallingwater.

“The Conservancy was shaped greatly by Josh Whetzel,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “Among his many accomplishments while leading the Conservancy for 26 years, he spearheaded the preservation of tens of thousands of acres of special natural places in Western Pennsylvania, offering spectacular outdoor recreational opportunities and protecting our wildlife. As the Conservancy continues to carry out Josh Whetzel’s vision of large-scale land and water conservation, over 230,000 acres of land have been preserved in Western Pennsylvania for all time.”

We greatly benefitted from his visionary leadership and motivation to protect Western Pennsylvania’s most important landscapes. His legacy will continue to guide our work.

The Whetzel family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3)
of the Internal Revenue Code, and 100% of your donation is tax-deductable as allowed by law.