Confluence, Pa. – May 24, 2019 – A new hiking trail constructed within an undeveloped forested hillside near the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail in Confluence, Pa., in Somerset County was dedicated on May 23 honoring the conservation legacy of the late Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr.
Whetzel served as president and chief executive officer of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy from 1969 to 1978, as chairman of the board of directors from 1978 to 1995, and remained a member of the board until his passing 2012.
This new up-and-back half-mile Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr. Trail starts behind the popular Lucky Dog Café and ascends a hillside to a scenic observation area overlooking the southern edge of Confluence, portions of the GAP trail and the Casselman and Youghiogheny rivers.
This trail is located on a 40-acre property the Conservancy purchased in 2013 now named the Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr. Memorial Recreation Area. It is one of six Conservancy-owned properties protected in recent years to help safeguard scenic views and wildlife along the GAP trail. These properties comprise the Conservancy’s 644-acre Casselman River Conservation Area.
Whetzel was responsible for many successful conservation projects during his leadership tenure, including acquiring important land that eventually became the first leg of the GAP trail.
By the 1970s, railway operations from Cumberland, Md. to Connellsville, Pa. ended. Whetzel and other conservationists recognized the value of protecting and reusing the abandoned railroad corridor for green space for hiking and biking.
Whetzel had a significant role in negotiations among the Conservancy, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Chessie System (now known as CSX). In 1978, Whetzel led the acquisition of 27 additional miles of railroad corridor from Connellsville, Pa. to Confluence, Pa. This acquisition created the first leg of the GAP Trail.
Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy, said under Whetzel’s leadership, the Conservancy achieved significant land and water conservation in the Laurel Highlands.
“It is an honor to dedicate this new trail and newly protected property to Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr. He dedicated his career to conservation, was a true leader in land conservation work and had such a lasting impact on our region,” said Saunders.
Current Conservancy board member and Whetzel’s son, Joshua Whetzel, III, said his father’s work to purchase and conserve large landscapes, an uncommon practice for land conservation organizations in the 1970s that is now commonplace, is one example of his father’s visionary leadership.
“He was ahead of his time in his thinking and acting on conservation. He could really see things that needed to be done or acquired way out there in front of everyone,” said Whetzel.
At the trail’s overlook, signage has been installed to educate visitors about Whetzel’s conservation legacy and includes his photo and an informational map of the surrounding landscape.
Acquisition of the property, trail construction and signage were made possible through the generosity of the family and friends of Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr., and funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation and Nimick Forbesway Foundation.
Photos and a map are available for media use courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy: https://we.tl/t-HlOACFHFME.
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 to establish 11 state parks, conserved more than a quarter million acres of natural lands and protected or restored more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams. The Conservancy owns and operates Fallingwater, which was donated to WPC in 1963 and symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 132 community gardens and other green spaces that are planted with the help of more than 11,000 volunteers. The work of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 9,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org or Fallingwater.org.
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