Woman honored for volunteer work

From left, Emily Altomare presents Titusville woman Leah Carter with her James E. Holden Greenways Volunteer of the Year award at the Greenways Awards ceremony held Thursday, at Drake Well Museum and Park. Accompanying the award is an original art piece commissioned during the Council on Greenways and Trails’ Nature Art Showcase events.

Titusville claimed not one, but two honors at the most recent annual Greenways Awards ceremony, which was held Thursday at Drake Well Museum and Park.

Leah Carter, a local woman, was given the James E. Holden Greenways Volunteer of the Year award, while Drake Well Museum and Park and Friends of Drake Well Inc. claimed the Greenways Neighbor of the Year honor. The Greenways Awards recognize people or organizations that support the many greenways and trails located in Crawford, Venango and Clarion counties.

Carter, who describes herself as a “professional volunteer,” and is involved in multiple volunteer efforts in the Titusville area, including the Holiday at Burgess Christmas light display and the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism.

“I see so much potential for our region, and I just enjoy doing what I can to advance that,” Carter said.

In recent years, she has turned her attention toward greenway and trail projects. She is a founding member of the Titusville Area Trails Association, which formed in 2008, and also frequently attends the Council on Greenways and Trails quarterly meetings.

Through her work with TATA, she serves as the official delegate to the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail Alliance Board of Directors, which pushes for a connecting non-motorized trail network through western Pennsylvania. She has even served as the vice president for membership development on the EPTA since 2015, and is involved in the group’s executive committee, marketing committee and strategic planning committee.

While Carter said she’s been trying to “pass the torch” to other people for many volunteer positions, she still finds satisfaction out of it helping the community.

“Each year, I try to start butting back, but I enjoy it,” she said. “So as long as I’m able to, I’d like to contribute.”

Explaining the diversity of her volunteer roles, Carter said he likes to “dabble” in many different fields, including art, historic preservation and economic development. One of the best parts of volunteering, according to her, is getting the chance to work with others to make a positive change.

“It’s a joy to see what you can accomplish together,” she said.

Carter got the chance to speak positively about one of her favorite partners, the Drake Well Museum and Park, during the ceremony. She presented the Greenways Neighbor of the Year award to Drake Well Museum Administrator Melissa Mann, who accepted the honor on behalf of all Drake Well staff and volunteers.

“We really enjoy working with the people at Drake Well and the Friends at Drake Well,” Carter said. “They’re very knowledgable and supportive, so it’s a joy to work with them and we look forward to doing so with them more.”

The neighbor award recognizes people or organizations who have had a positive involvement in a greenway or trail. Drake Well Museum and Park workers have had a hand in many events organized by TATA, including the National Trails Day event held for the first time on June 1 earlier this year.

Drake Well was also honored for its taking on the duties of the Drake Well Marathon after the dissolving of Titusville Leisure Services in 2015, and its planned upgrades and improvements for the Jersey Bridge Trailhead, which connects to the Oil Creek State Park bike trail.

“We’re really honored to be nominated and to receive the award,” Mann said.

According to the administrator, the focus on recreational activities at Drake Well Museum and Park began around four to five years ago following a study of why people visit the site.

“What we found was that two-thirds of our visitors come for recreational purpose — to use the biking and hiking trails, to fly fish,” Mann said.

Drake Well leadership and staff decided to “lean in” this development, and began supporting various leisure activities at the park and museum. This included forming partnerships with neighboring recreation groups, such as TATA and the with Friends of Oil Creek State Park. Mann said that park and museum staff often offer this expertise on a variety of projects, helping out where they can.

Big plans are in motion for the Jersey Bridge Trailhead. According to Mann, beautification efforts have already been launched, and a staircase was installed for the hillside by the trail. Future work will see the addition of some lights around the trailhead for safety purposes, as well as the installation of gardens on the hillside by the trail head.

Mann said a committee will be formed in the future to seek feedback from the community and partnering organizations on possible projects relating to the trailhead.

In addition to Drake Well and Carter, Penn Soil Resource Conservation and Development Council was awarded at the ceremony. The group received the Thomas J. Allen Greenways Partner of the Year, which honors individuals or organizations which have supported the Council on Greenways and Trails or its members.

Penn Soil was originally formed in 1964 by the Resource Conservation Development Program, which was a United States Department of Agriculture initiative. The USDA would form councils across the country to support natural resource conservation, with Penn Soil being one of these councils.

However, the national version of the program was defunded in 2011.Penn Soil Executive Director Wesley Ramsey estimated that roughly half of all councils dissolved. Whereas once, around 85% of the United States was covered by a council, now there are many vacant areas.

Penn Soil was not one of those boards that dissolved. Instead, the group has stuck together, and while Ramsey admitted they aren’t as “robust” as they used to be, they still help out when they can.

One of the things that kept the group going in the early years after the defunding was their commitment to projects they were already working on. Ramsey said that the kind of jobs and duties the council took on couldn’t be completed in a day or two, meaning that once the council decided to finish what they started, they were in it for the long haul.

Along the way, the council took on new projects on the side, and have been able to support themselves ever since.

“So far, it seems to be working,” Ramsey said.

The group services an eight county area, consisting of Crawford, Venango, Forest, Erie, Warren, Clarion, Mercer and Lawrence counties. Some of their current projects include a study on the effects of timber harvests on climate change and improving a connector trail that links Chapmanville State Park to the National North County Scenic Trail.

Ramsey estimated that Penn Soil contributes between $400,000 to $500,000 in public benefit projects across its eight county region per year.

“I think that’s pretty good for a part-time staff,” he said.

When working with other organizations, Ramsey said Penn Soil specializes in finding the “hidden mechanism” that needs to occur for a project to succeed. The group lends its expertise to a multitude of trail and nature organizations, including assisting in improvements to the Big Bend Area in Warren County and the Two Mile Park Nature Lodge in Venango County.

All winners received a framed certificate, as well as an original art piece that was commissioned during the Nature Art Showcase events the Council on Greenways and Trails has held since 2016. Nominations for award recipients are accepted from the public, and any individual, group, business, organization or other kind of entity can be nominated provided that they meet the specific award’s criteria within the past five years.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

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