The Evergreen Conservancy celebrated 10 years of service to the county at its annual meeting Tuesday night at the Tanoma Wetlands Environmental Education Center, the property that gave rise to the conservancy in 2004.
For the past decade, the conservancy has worked to advance the preservation, protection and stewardship of natural, cultural and historic resources in and around the county. In its capacity as a land trust, the Evergreen Conservancy holds county property in the interest and benefit of the community.
The group is governed by an 11-member board. Members, who are all volunteers, include experts from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, retired teachers, and experts in the mining and wetlands fields. The board and members — about 80 in all, according to board President Cindy Rogers — have been responsible for a number of conservation and education projects over the lifetime of the group.
One of its key projects is the 10-acre Tanoma abandoned mine drainage (AMD) site, a series of ponds and wetlands designed to filter water and remove heavy metals and pollutants through a low-cost, passive system.
PHOTO: Bob Lankard, an Evergreen Conservancy board member, right, presented a lifetime achievement award to Jim Lafontaine, on behalf of Dr. Robert Eppley, an integral part of the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association. Eppley was absent Tuesday.
When the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection completed construction of the Tanoma system in the late 1990s, an entity was needed to take ownership because the DEP is not allowed to own property. No local organization could do so, and the Southern Allegheny Conservancy of Bedford took the land. The same happened with the Waterworks Conservation Area project along Two Lick Creek.
In response to the need for an Indiana County organization to own the land, the Evergreen Conservancy was founded in March 2004 after exploratory meetings were held in late 2003. The Tanoma AMD site now functions as an environmental education center as well as a filtration system.
It includes a wetlands interpretive trail, bridges, a pavilion, a water turbine generator, and wind and solar panels that light the pavilion and power an aerating fountain in the pond.
“We’re very proud of all the environmental education that we do there,” Rogers said. “We’ve gotten a lot of kids enthused and gotten them outside and learning about the environment. I’m very proud of all that we’ve done there.”
The system removes 23 tons of iron every year from the water it returns to Crooked Creek. Through a joint project with the Indiana Arts Council, some of the collected iron oxide is sent to local artists for their work, which is then auctioned off to raise funds for both groups.
The Evergreen Conservancy work over the past decade has expanded to include other county properties and programs.
The group was involved in the initial development of the restoration of Bear Run, a major tributary of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The work is now mainly in the hands of the Indiana County Conservation District and the Susquehanna River Basin, but it’s “a huge project” with hundreds of acres of land, and the restoration process will be ongoing, Rogers said.
Another recent project is a water quality monitoring initiative, which uses data loggers in streams to analyze water samples. More than 25 volunteers collect data every two weeks from 34 installed loggers.
With help from Indiana County Emergency Management, the Conservancy has also installed five telemetry systems that log data in real time and upload it to the Internet, meaning volunteers don’t have to collect the data manually every two weeks. These systems log pH, temperature, flow and conductivity of county streams. Indiana University of Pennsylvania students work with the data as part of their studies, Rogers said.
Other Conservancy projects include the adoption of a stretch of the Hoodlebug Trail between Homer City and Josephine, which it maintains each year, as well as a low-impact boat launch in Homer City, near the confluence of Two Lick Creek and Yellow Creek.
The organization welcomes new members at any time, Rogers said. More information about the group, its many projects and membership is available on the Evergreen Conservancy’s website, www.evergreenconservancy.org.