The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is advancing an important community effort, the “Untold Stories of Pennsylvania’s State Parks & Forests,” to discover, interpret and share the untold stories of underrepresented and marginalized groups associated with lands currently operating as state parks and forests in Western Pennsylvania.
In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and other partners, the project will provide cultural and historical research, reporting, and interpretive education, among other benefits. The research will inform storytelling, interpretive education, and historic and prehistoric land acknowledgment.
Why This Work is Needed
As the owner of state parks and forests in Pennsylvania, DCNR is committed to enhancing interpretive programming in these spaces to be more culturally relevant and inclusive.
Conventional white, Eurocentric historical information on Western Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests is readily available to the public through onsite interpretive material, published literature and online resources. However, stories of underrepresented people and communities related to these lands, particularly stories of women, indigenous people and people of color, are not as readily available or have been historically left out of interpretations.
If researched and interpreted thoughtfully, these stories can help drive change toward more welcoming and inclusive experiences for all visitors to state parks and forests and may broaden interest in and accessibility to these public spaces by conveying a more thorough acknowledgment of land use history and prehistory.
Who is Funding this Effort
Grant funding for this project is made possible thanks to the generosity of the DCNR Community Conservation and Partnership Program and Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Meet the Project Team
As the coordinating partner, Conservancy has convened a project committee consisting of staff from DCNR, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the Heinz History Center, the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, Rivers of Steel, and Shippensburg University. The project committee is guiding the process through identifying the specific parks and forests for analysis, developing scopes of work, and overseeing the research and reporting processes.
The Conservancy hired Indiana University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology’s Research Institute as the investigative and analysis consultant for this project. Led by IUP Professor Dr. Ben Ford, a mix of IUP students and other professors are conducting geographical surveys, research and interviews in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area. The inquiries include land associated with the Brown Farm, an early 19th century African-American settlement on Laurel Hill near Johnstown in Cambria County.
The Conservancy is also working with Slippery Rock University to include research from various ongoing archeological projects along Wolf Creek or the Slippery Rock Gorge in Butler County. At this location, Native American cultural history is being researched and preserved to help further interpret Moraine and McConnells Mill state parks, and the Jennings Environmental Education Center.
The Conservancy is working with the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center on this project to help interpret our region’s Native American land connections.
How You Can Get Involved
Are you an ancestor of a resident of the Brown Farm near Johnstown? Did you know of someone who was? Do you have photos or a piece of furniture, heirloom or keepsake for a former Brown Farm resident? Do you have Native American ancestors with connections to Butler County?
If so, we want to listen and hear your story from you. Members of the project team are facilitating community discussions, and welcoming your input. More information on upcoming opportunities will be available through the end of 2023 and announced on the Conservancy’s website and social media.
If you have a story to share or questions about this project, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Senior Director, Community Forestry & TreeVitalize Pittsburgh
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
800 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
The Johnstown Branch of the NAACP and Flood City Youth Fitness Academy will sponsor an eight-day celebration in recognition of Juneteenth, with events held June 12 through June 19 in downtown Johnstown.
Roundtable Discussion on the Laurel Hill Settlement
Monday, June 12
Downtown Johnstown’s Central Park
As part of Johnstown’s Juneteenth events, our IUP consultants will share more information about the Untold Stories Project and the Laurel Hill settlement with information on the context and events of the settlers.
In the News
Our “Untold Stories of Pennsylvania’s State Parks & Forests” project has been in the news recently. Articles have appeared in the Tribune-Democrat and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among some other social and print media outlets, and shared details on this ongoing effort.
- (May 30, 2023, The Tribune-Democrat) Eight-day Juneteenth celebration to promote unity in community
- (May 18, 2023, The Tribune-Democrat) Anthropologist: Research on Johnstown site helps ‘tell this important story’ of local Black settlement
- (May 18, 2023, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Anthropologist: Research on Johnstown site helps ‘tell this important story’ of local Black settlement
- (Feb 11, 2023, The Tribune-Democrat) Black History Month, ‘Bring this site to life’: DCNR, IUP partners aim to preserve, uncover stories from early Black settlement near Johnstown
About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy:
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) enhances the region by protecting and restoring exceptional places. A private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932, WPC has helped establish 11 state parks, conserved more than a quarter million acres of natural lands, protected or restored more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, and assessed thousands of wildlife species and their habitats. The Conservancy owns and operates Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 130 community gardens and other green spaces and thousands of trees that are planted with the help of more than 7,000 volunteers. The work of the Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 10,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org or Fallingwater.org.
Senior Director of Communications