Indiana, PA - Indiana County

MONDAY Q&A: Friends group aims to boost Yellow Creek State Park, Sherwood says

on March 21, 2011 3:00 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kenneth Sherwood says he was introduced to Yellow Creek State Park while visiting Indiana to interview for a job as an English professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and it was that visit to the park that helped convince him to take the IUP position.

Now, eight years later, he is co-chairing the group Friends of Yellow Creek that is working to help make sure Yellow Creek remains a vibrant recreational resource. Sherwood recently talked with Gazette staffer Mike Petersen about his love for Yellow Creek and what the group is doing to support the work of the park staff.

Question: You and Ben Scherf are co-chairmen of the Friends of Yellow Creek. What was the genesis of the group?

Answer: The parent organization, PA Parks and Forests, has its mission of helping to foster community groups at the different state parks where they don't already exist. So I guess that's part of what spawned it. I got involved with the formation of the Friends group right around the time when there were some questions about the funding for state parks … the budget impasse. I had been enjoying Yellow Creek a lot in the previous couple of years and just sort of was concerned that that might be at risk. When I heard there was some interest in forming a Friends group, I thought, "That's something that I could support. I'd like to find ways to promote that park, help improve it." I value it a lot and (wanted) to be able to help make sure it continues to be something that everybody in the community can enjoy. It frightened me to think the gates might be shut on that park, so it felt good to receive an opportunity to contribute in some way.

Question: Was your interest primarily from the sailing side?

Answer: I'd been visiting it for picnicking and swimming on occasion, but it was when I began to take up sailing -- which I pretty much taught myself to do at Yellow Creek a couple of years back -- that I started visiting a number of times a summer. Last summer I sailed 50 times -- not all of them at Yellow Creek, some at Lake Arthur, a few when I was visiting family in New England -- but I probably sailed 30 times at Yellow Creek. I came to really value that as a place to be able to enjoy the outdoors and the water.

Everybody enjoys the park in different ways. There's a great community of cyclists, which I didn't realize. There's a whole lot of biking going on around the park and a monthly racing series. Different groups of people have different reasons for loving it. I think what we had in common was the idea that it's really valuable if we could do things as residents of the area to improve it, to bring more people out, to raise its profile, to help them do the little projects that they need to be done. That was a good way to give back.

Question: How would you say the group's first year has gone?

Answer: I think we've had a really successful first year. Forming the group was part of the work, but we had our first September Fest last year. We've done some playground improvements, written some grants -- still waiting to see when the big money rolls in, but you have to write a lot of grants sometimes to get one. And we're beginning to have the success we want in fundraising.

Question: Has the support been good from the public?

Answer: We've had good public support. I think we've especially benefited from some generous individual donations. I think one of our goals this year, besides doing some of the events that we have planned, would be to do a little more outreach and gain a broader membership. Folks can come to the website ( and join the mailing list for free to get updated on the kind of things we're doing. We've got a mailing list of about 150. The memberships are pretty economical, too: $12 for an individual and $15 for a family. One of our goals is to increase the number of paying members.

Question: Did your first September Fest go well?

Answer: We had 150 or so people come to it. We got really good reviews. We're going to repeat the successful things this year. We've set the date for the 2011 festival. That's Sept. 24. We're going to add some new things: more music, we're adding sailboat races, and we're inviting some craft vendors.

Question: Anything else going on this year?

Answer: The Gazette has covered the boat-building that we've been doing. There's also some good trail improvement going on. There's a group of cyclists who are also affiliated with a Laurel Highlands group called LHORBA, and they're making maps and putting up signs to help people find the trails more easily. And I guess there's a plan in the works to create a more beginner-friendly trail. I guess some of the trails are for more rigorous and experienced off-road riders, so they want to create something that would be beginner-friendly.

One of our interest areas, because a few of us are sailors, is to improve the sailing opportunities there. There's kind of a long-term plan to look at developing some boating and sailing opportunities … looking at some grants to get some storage and maybe some ADA-accessible docking. I'm also sort of hopeful at some point that there might be some people who have old Sunfish (sailboats) and things in their garages and they might think about donating to the Friends group. … Ultimately, I'd like to see a fleet of community boats that people can go and use if they're members, and for low cost really enjoy it. That's looking down the road and working with the park manager to figure out what makes sense in terms of DCNR (the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) priorities.

There had been a sailing base there a decade or two ago, and that building exists still. My dream would be to renovate that one. It may be that it turns out to be more practical to do something on the south shore in the day-use area. The community boat-building project that the Gazette covered is part of building a little interest and giving people the first opportunity to do that.

Question: How did the boat-building class go? The first class, I understand, was full.

Answer: The folks who participated have really enjoyed that. … (For the first class) we could only do six at a time. Six was a lot to do. If there are people who are interested (in a boat-building class), they can e-mail through the website. We're compiling a list, and when we have five or six groups or families or individuals who are ready to commit, we'll do another one.

Question: Did you build one?

Answer: I did.

Question: How did it go?

Answer: It went great. There's a little bit of work still to do, but I'm happy with it. Also, personally, through the Moraine Sailing Club, I've been pursuing a U.S. Sailing certification as a small boat sailing instructor so that as we get a place to put boats and some boats to put in that place, I'll be qualified to help people who are interested but don't have prior experience. …

There's a great community program at Moraine State Park that kind of is the inspiration for some of what I would like to do. … (The lake at Moraine) is five or six times bigger than Yellow Creek, … but for people who would like to go out on a day sailer, a 13-foot boat, Yellow Creek is perfect. For a while I was keeping track of my mileage as a kind of sail-a-thon thing. On a good afternoon, you can sail six or eight miles back and forth. Sail out to the dam and back to the rope swing.

Question: Anything else in the works for the group this year?

Answer: One of the other projects that we're working on is playground improvement. We did some mulching and maintenance at one of the playgrounds in November, and we have some more volunteer work days that will be coming up to do that. I think we're going to be installing some new playground equipment that the park bought over near the cabins and yurts. …

One of the things (is) that (if) people join the mailing list, we can update them on those sort of volunteer opportunities, so if they're maybe not ready to make a financial donation, but they're interested in coming and picking up a rake or a shovel on a Saturday afternoon to do a little work at the park, we're trying to develop opportunities for that. Sometimes that can really help the park employees with a project that they don't really have the manpower to do during the regular season.

Question: That relates well to your goal to tie the community and park together.

Answer: That's right. As a volunteer, you have even more of a stake, and it reminds you what a wonderful place it is. I came to know Yellow Creek before I'd even moved here eight years ago. I came out here on my job interview. I'd flown in from west Texas, where it's flat, no trees, no water. I guess a perceptive colleague decided it would be good to take a half-hour out of the day and drive me out to Yellow Creek so that I could enjoy some of the landscape outside of town. That was one of the things that I phoned back to my wife about: "It's hilly, it's green, it's beautiful." And it was March, so it wasn't even the total glory of it. I knew I was going to like Yellow Creek even before we'd come.

Sometimes when I was growing up in New Hampshire, there would be sort of things in the area that tourists would come to see, but if you actually lived there you maybe didn't appreciate it as much. You might not have taken the time to go to that thing down the road. … I sort of feel a little bit like that about Yellow Creek. Having not grown up with it and having spent some time where there was no water, no hills, no trees, no forested trails to hike through, I really sort of immediately appreciated Yellow Creek.

Question: Has park manager Ken Bisbee been supportive of the group?

Answer: Ken is working closely with us. He comes to all our meetings. We're really kind of the community volunteer partner group to the park. If we're going to do a project, it has to be something that the park wants. Sometimes we can do things that they can't do. Some of the fundraising opportunities we have as a nonprofit are … one of the ways we benefit. For instance, we're getting a coin-op laundry installed at the yurts and cabins. If the park were to do that, the money would have to go to Harrisburg. If Friends of Yellow Creek does it, then we can use that money to fund some of the things that need to be done at the park.

I think Ken recognizes it as a really good way to marshal support in the community and to get some projects done and bring people out to the park. One of the reasons we do the September Fest in September is because Ken Bisbee observed to us that the park is not as busy in September. … We thought that would be a good time to remind people that you can come out to the park even when the water is a little cool for swimming.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Do you know someone who would be a great subject for the Monday Q&A? If so, please call Jason Levan at (724) 465-5555, ext. 270.

NEXT WEEK: Debbie Streams, director of voter registration at the county courthouse.


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