Volunteering since 2011
Alan Hunninen grew up with a love of the natural world and architecture. As an architect, Alan found himself exploring Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve in the early 1970s. For nearly 40 years, he continued to bring his family and friends to the historic site and joined in the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s annual Members’ Day events at Bear Run. After retiring in 2011, Alan was able to use his architecture skills to help the Conservancy build and maintain hiking trails on its nature reserves across the region.
Preservation of high-value sites, maintenance of reasonable public access and the comradeship of working with like-minded people keeps me energized and involved.
How did you become involved with WPC?
Soon after graduating from the University of Tennessee’s School of Architecture in 1970, I arrived in Pittsburgh, and within two months made the first of many trips to Fallingwater. My parents, grandmother, and aunts and uncles exposed me to the many wonders and joys of the natural world. In 1964, my grandmother was the first person to donate private land – land I romped on when growing up – to the New Hampshire Nature Conservancy. Thus, it was, I believe, a given that I would soon begin exploring the trails of the Bear Run Preserve in the early 1970s. I was aware even then, on some level, that I would become a volunteer with the WPC.
How long have you been a volunteer with us and what motivates you to stay involved at WPC?
In 2011, two months after retiring from an architectural career, I signed up to be a Land Steward volunteer. Preservation of high-value sites, maintenance of reasonable public access and the comradeship of working with like-minded people keeps me energized and involved. I will continue volunteering until I am no longer able.
Tell us about your favorite volunteer experience at WPC?
My architectural skills come in handy at times doing trail construction and maintenance. At Lower Elk Creek in Erie County several years ago, we were installing timber steps down a steep embankment to the floodplain level. Lacking the precision tools of my trade, I did what came naturally; break a twig to the desired depth of the step, and use it to insure the correct location of each step. When the last step was in place, I tossed the twig back to the forest floor allowing it to continue its role in the carbon cycle. WPC’s Director of Land Stewardship, Andy Zadnik, unbeknownst to me, rescued my “tool” perhaps thinking I’d like to add it to my office toolbox. He presented it to me just before we all started our return trip to Pittsburgh.
What has surprised you most about working with WPC?
For nearly 40 years, my wife and I took family and friends visiting us in Pittsburgh to Fallingwater. We attended many annual Member Picnics with our growing family. While I was aware that WPC had other properties, I never visited one until 2011 on my first Land Steward workday. Since then, I have been amazed and appreciative of the breadth and scope of WPC’s mission, including special events that my wife and I have attended.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities, but none more than cross-country (X-C) skiing (partly due to my Finnish genes, I suspect). In February 1974, I was invited to meet a friend from New York to X-C ski in central Pennsylvania. I had little idea what I was in for, but I have never missed a winter since without skiing at least once. In my skiing prime (1980s and 1990s), I participated six time in the annual two-day 100-mile Canadian X-C Ski Marathon in Quebec.