"Northern Woods"

Remembering Doc Blakeslee

Dr. Blakeslee enjoyed fishing 
with his grandchildren, 
Andrew and Grace.
Dr. Blakeslee enjoyed fishing with his grandchildren, Andrew and Grace.

A man fondly remembered as “Doc” left his mark on the Northern Woods region not just through his attention to patients’ health, but also through his passion for environmental health.

Dr. Colson “Doc” E. Blakeslee, a native of DuBois, Pa., ran a medical practice in the Elk County town for more than 50 years until his death in 2011 at the age of 89. But he was also a community leader and had a longstanding relationship with environmental protection legislation and regulation in Pennsylvania as well as on the federal level. Doc was a longstanding member of the Western Pennsylvania Board of Directors.

“He really associated environmental health with public health before anyone else did,” said Matt Marusiak, a land protection manager in WPC’s Ridgway, Pa., office.

Blakeslee also left a mark on a stream left dead by abandoned mine drainage. The Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek – which flows through Clearfield, Elk and Cameron counties – is a historically famous trout fishing stream, but years of coal mining led to its degradation.

A WPC board member since 1979, Blakeslee was a champion for the remediation of Bennett Branch. He drove the effort that resulted in the Conservancy acquiring the second largest property it holds, Bennett Branch Forest. And Blakeslee supported the acquisition of land by DEP along the stream itself, the construction on that property of a $14 million abandoned mine drainage treatment facility, and the subsequent remediation of Bennett Branch.

This area is now in the midst of a recovery, being stocked with trout for the first time in years.

Blakeslee’s efforts along Bennett Branch didn’t end there. An avid fisherman, he soon turned his attention to developing public fishing access to the area. The Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area, a 24-acre property along the stream, will honor Doc’s legacy and provide public access to the stream for fishing.

In 1969, Blakeslee was among the founding members of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He was also a strong citizen advocate for the reauthorization of the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

As a result of an effective advocacy campaign led by Blakeslee and other groups, the Fund was reauthorized by Congress in 2006. This reauthorization was estimated to bring $1.4 billion to Pennsylvania for the cleanup of abandoned mine drainage in the Commonwealth.