Resources Link To Community Character
Inside the Outdoors, December 25, 2009

When we look at Connellsville, we don’t necessarily think of it as a place of interest, at least from a tourist point of view. But in the future, with the combined efforts of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, people may see a renewal take place resulting in a revitalized community.

This fact of enlightenment was revealed by PEC Direction of Communications, Brad Clemenson at a recent Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited gathering held at the Winnie Palmer Nature Center, St. Vincent College, Latrobe.

“Historically,” he noted, “Connellsville had a very rich past, not only economically, but also concerning resource wealth. At one time, the town had more billionaires per capita than any place in the world.” Its mineral resource had equal status. Now he sees it as still having a lot of character but “needing some tender loving care.”

Clemenson was very encouraged about upcoming plans to draw people back to that Fayette County locale by improving trails, developing access areas to the Youghiogheny River and reusing the train station. “As a result, Connellsville will serve as a model for older communities with linkage of natural resources,” he expressed.

So, for those who may not be enlightened, what is the PEC? After all, most if not all outdoorsmen have seen the letters DCNR and actually know for what they stand. The PEC is an organization that implements collaborative solutions to environmental protection and restoration. It develops a master plan for conducting the state parks and forests and how the resources are allocated.

Recently celebrating its 40th birthday, it is the oldest non-profit environment organization. Its mission is to develop new policies, programs and projects that demonstrate unique, but replicable approaches to solving environmental problems using market-based and other non-partisan, science-driven solutions.

Since the PEC believes in the power of partnerships, bringing together people and interests of diverse background to develop solutions to problems that address various concerns, it only makes sense that it would become involved with the DCNR’s Conservation Landscape Initiatives, large regions working together to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. One of the seven, statewide, is located in our midst – and we are very much a part of it.

“The Laurel Highlands is one of the best,” explained Clemenson, “and it is most advanced because it is a fairly cohesive area. The people have a sense of identity and there is a lot of capability in the area. In addition, there is significant nature diversity.”

He went on to say, “If one wants to go whitewater rafting, downhill skiing or mountain biking, it’s all here – we’ve got it in the Laurel Highlands.” This Initiative is comprised of Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset Counties.

What does the future hold for this CLI? “The vision we have adopted by the year 2020,” he conveyed, “is that the unique character of the Laurel Highlands will be protected and the region and its communities recognized as having world class heritage and recreation destinations as wonderful places to live, work and play,” he emphasized.

It comes right down to this. If we as citizens realize not only the value of our natural resources and surrounding habitats, but understand the existing link between them and a growing economy within our communities, we will attract non-residents who will recreate as well as spend money. “This is the real key,” Clemenson commented.

In closing, the director stated, “People have to understand the value of our resources. Ohio Pyle is proof of that. It has 77 year-around residents with a one and one-half million visitors a year.” The waterfall, Youghiogheny River, and the activities associated them are big attractions. If you took them away, would the people still come? You tell me.

- Paul J. Volkmann
You can contact me by email