When I sat down with Andrea Ferich, the executive director of the Penns Valley Conservation Association (PVCA), her passion for the organization and its mission projected from every fiber of her being. It was a wonderful thing to see. Andrea is the very first executive director of PVCA, an organization that has been maintained solely through the work of dedicated volunteers for the last 20 years.
The PVCA mission is to serve as a steward for the natural and cultural communities in the Upper Penns Creek watershed. They seek to preserve and honor the cultural roots of Penns Valley by protecting and conserving its waters, farmlands, forests, and rural heritage. PVCA arose from a citizen effort to affect the location of a quarry in Aaronsburg in the early 1990’s but has evolved into an organization with much broader environmental and cultural goals. Receiving non-profit status in 1994, PVCA was successful in securing Exceptional Value designation for portions of Pine and Elk Creeks and since then has developed a system to regularly monitor water quality throughout the watershed. As a component of its Environmental Education role (over ten years running in the Penns Valley Area School District), PVCA hosts field visits with school students to the privately owned Muddy Paws Marsh Wetland Education Center and other local sites. The current PVCA funded Environmental Education Coordinator, Jim Flanagan, is similarly enthused instructing students about their environs. (Incidentally, Muddy Paws is owned by former Centre Foundation Executive Director Mary Kay Williams and her husband Greg). PVCA also hosts a yearly spring stream clean-up, organizes the ever-popular annual Crickfest Celebration, and completes many additional habitat restoration and best management practice projects on area farms.
Since its inception, PVCA has protected 25,000 feet of stream bank, planted over 10,000 trees and shrubs, installed 81 in-stream fish habitats, implemented best management practices on 25 farms, educated 1,000 children about environmental issues on a yearly basis, and leveraged $1.35 million for projects in the community.
In 2013, the PVCA Board of directors engaged Scott Leff from the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University and the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, to strengthen its Strategic Plan. They refined the five key goals for the organization: An environmentally educated, inspired, and engaged watershed community; Sound environmental stewardship from all watershed municipalities; Achieve and maintain drinkable, fishable, and swimmable quality water in all sources; Encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and locally owned businesses, and support farms that create environmentally sound jobs; and lastly, continue to strengthen PVCA’s infrastructure and community image.
PVCA has recently received a grant from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. This $250,000 grant will implement PVCA’s STrEAM initiative. You may have heard of the STEAM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), PVCA has added the “r” for restoration. This spring, the STrEAM initiative will be certifying Citizen Scientists to undertake Stream Restoration Monitoring. These citizen scientists will be paid a prevailing wage to monitor and protect the waters of the Upper Penns Creek Watershed. They will also be tasked with teaching their neighbors how to read the health of a stream. Anyone interested in this program is encouraged to come to a PVCA Second Saturday event to learn more about the program. The STrEAM initiative will also be providing an internship program at the Penns Valley School High School. The final component of the initiative is to continue implementation of ongoing restoration efforts in stretches of the Upper Penns Creek watershed. PVCA will oversee the institution of best management practices on four local farms, restoration of 1.4 miles of stream bank, and formation of a local network of volunteers to monitor these streams.
PVCA has also recently received a grant from the Centre Foundation during our field of interest grants cycle. Funds provided by the Centre County Medical Society Fund will implement the first phase of their Healthy Environments Initiative at the Penns Valley Environmental Center. Currently the environmental center is used by instructors, coaches, and the organization in a variety of manners. PVCA is utilizing the Center as a way to connect youth with the beauty and wonder of their natural environment, thus inspiring them to continue this connection through active and healthier lifestyles. The community-driven and youth-led Healthy Environments initiative will work to revitalize the Environmental Center through the creation of signage and maps and develop it into a healthy recreation space with increased trail networks and greater accessibility.
Penns Valley is an engaged and vibrant community and PVCA is a wonderful example of that. Through their tireless efforts, PVCA has positioned themselves as a community leader and supporter and is an invaluable asset to the region.
For more information about the Penns Valley Conservation Association please visit their website and don't forget to like their Facebook page!