Water Utility Grant Helps Develop GeoTrail

Armstrong Conservation District Resource Conservationist Julie Zeyzus (left) and AmeriCorp members Katie Good and Larissa Rice (right) receive a check from PA American Water Field Operations Supervisor Jake Gentile so local officials can form a GeoTrail in Armstrong County.

 

by Jonathan Weaver

Armstrong Conservation District leaders have received a $3,500 grant from PA American Water to help fund a new outdoor trail.

The grant, part of the McMurry-based company’s annual environmental grant awards, will help the upcoming ACD WATER GeoTrail (an acronym standing for Watersheds, Agriculture, Trails, Erosion and sediment pollution control and Roads, dirt, gravel and low volume) – which will concentrate on featuring completed watershed projects.

Since projects are mostly completed on private property, only board members, legislators and county commissioners during the annual Fall Conservation Tour, but officials hope to showcase those to public residents and geocachers.

Conservation District AmeriCorp members Katie Good and Larissa Rice lead the project, entitled RING – a combination of the township the site is located in (Rayburn) and the landowner’s name (Ingram) – but local officials have discussed creating a geotrail during the past seven years.

Rice openly spoke about the project during a legislative breakfast in March, with PA American Water being the first company to dedicate funds as of last month.

Rice – a geocacher for about 10 years – said she and Good found out about the grant after they returned from the Alle-Kiski-Connie Rivers Sojourn.

“The funding that (PA American Water) provided us will fund a majority of the trail actually,” Rice said. “They will fund the containers (geocaches) are in.”

A team from PA American Water came to present a check to the conservation district yesterday, as well as find their own example geocache in a field beside Faith Baptist Church along a completed Cowanshannock Creek project.

Completed last year, the streambank stabilization project and fish habitat improvement project decreases streambank erosion.

Where that geocache was demonstrated, officials stalled two rock and log J-hook vanes with root wads and stream structures were positioned to direct the creek current away from the streambanks to reduce erosion. This process also has created habitats for aquatic organisms.

PA American Water Field Operations Supervisor Jake Gentile led the PA American Water team toward the example cache – which included pens bearing the PA American Water logo and empty film canisters with garbage bags.

Officials hope that geocaches will also move to other completed projects every few years.

According to PA American Water External Affairs Manager Gary Lobaugh, the Armstrong Conservation District grant was one of seven grants issued in 2016, with total grant funds totaling nearly $35,000 for community-based projects that improve, restore or protect watersheds.

A panel of judges selected the grant recipients from nearly 40 applications, which were evaluated on such criteria as environmental need, innovation, community engagement and sustainability.

“Over the years since we launched the Environmental Grant Program, organizations have presented projects and initiatives that are inspiring and made a positive impact on our watersheds,” said Kathy L. Pape, president, Pennsylvania American Water. “We are very proud to support these programs and the people behind them – many of whom are volunteers and neighbors in the communities we serve.”

PA American Water representatives also discussed further funding collaboration opportunities with the conservation district.

Rice said officials will update when the GeoTrail is open via their social media accounts. The number of caches launched will depend on landowner permission.

Gentile finds an example geocache on the side of Cowanshannock Creek in Rayburn Township with the aid of Rice and a GPS device yesterday morning.