Independence Conservancy’s Chairman, Albert F. Moran, passed away on April 2 after a long struggle with heart failure. He was 80 years old.
Al and his long-time associate Vicky Michaels co-founded Independence Conservancy based in Beaver County on July 4, 1999 as part of Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener grassroots conservation movement.
“Al was a gentle giant for conservation,” said Lexa Taylor, a fellow board member and one of the original incorporators of the Conservancy. “Al leaves a big set of boots that no one can fill,” said Michaels. “Our duty now is to carry on the wonderful work he led us through – our abandoned mine treatment systems, our community tire collections, and our Land Camp for teens.”
For over 40 years, Al and his family business, Moran Excavating, helped to shape the landscape of western Pennsylvania by building countless home foundations, driveways and yards, septic systems, roads, water lines, ponds, tie walls and other improvements.
Al believed in helping people and making them happy through the quality of his work. Among his clients were many Pittsburgh celebrities including former Steeler Lynn Swann who leaped across the foundation Al had dug and exclaimed, “It’s mine, Al – it’s my house!”
Al cherished the beauty of creation and worked all his life to protect it.
In 1953 he was the first student president of Hopewell High School Conservation, Fishing and Hunting Club. He was a past president of Sewickley Shooting & Fishing Club and the Aliquippa Bucktail League.
He also served on Beaver County’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board and was the chairman of PA CleanWays of Beaver County (now Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful).
In 1996 Al was recognized by the Beaver County Conservation District for distinguished service in building Independence Marsh Environmental Education Center on Raccoon Creek and Jones Mine AMD Treatment System in the Brady’s Run Watershed.
At Jones Mine, an underfunded federal project, Al’s brand-new Case excavator became mired up over its doors in a bottomless mud hole. Undaunted, Al freed the machine and completed Beaver County’s first and only AMD Treatment System.
As co-founder and chairman of Independence Conservancy, Al used his excavating equipment and ingenuity to clean up thousands of tons of rubbish and tires from the hillsides and valleys of the Raccoon Creek Watershed.
Al knew that volunteers with hand tools were no match for the worst trash and tire dumps.
Recognizing a niche for their talents and skills, he and Michaels molded Independence Conservancy into a nimble, construction-oriented non-profit that tackled environmental problems and projects larger groups wouldn’t touch.
One such challenge was the JB2 Abandoned Mine Discharge Treatment System near Burgettstown.
With construction grants about to expire, Al inspired his fellow board members to show faith in Gary Stokum and the Washington County Conservation District, thereby salvaging the project and launching the Conservancy as a land trust committed to protecting JB2 forever.
JB2 and other systems like it filter out billions of gallons of acid mine pollution from Raccoon Creek, allowing aquatic life to flourish and people to enjoy fishing and swimming downstream.
Al’s mastery of machinery enabled Independence Conservancy to make a major dent in the problem of scrap tires scattered throughout the countryside.
With grants from Growing Greener and the FirstEnergy Foundation, the Conservancy bought a towable tire shear that Al modified for efficiency and ergonomics.
Since 2004, the volunteers Al trained to use the tire shear have safely and properly disposed of over 100,000 scrap tires and wheels, most of them cut up with Al at the controls.
As much as he loved shaping the earth with heavy machinery, Al believed in shaping the lives of young people.
He found great joy in serving as director of Beaver County Sportsmen’s Conservation League Youth Camp and Youth Fishing Derby.
At New Life Presbyterian Church he had been a deacon and led youth group mission trips to Texas and Brazil.
He served as coach for the Aliquippa Little Steelers, mentoring a young Tony Dorsett.
For decades, Al was a Hunter-Trapper Education Instructor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. As a finale to his firearms safety lectures, he would obliterate gallon jugs of milk and cabbage heads with a single shot to make the graphic point that guns are not toys.
In 2015, Al realized a long-held dream of establishing Land Camp, Independence Conservancy’s youth conservation school.
From his wheelchair, he encouraged the first group of Land Campers to be open to the lessons of nature, be respectful of others and be true to themselves. By so doing, he said, they will become keepers of the Earth.
“Al’s enjoyment was giving back,” said Al Wasilewski, manager at Raccoon Creek State Park. “Al wanted youngsters who used the Park to have the same opportunities he did to understand and respect nature. He worked to make sure the next generation of young people would learn to give back as well.”
“Al taught me everything I know about conservation at the sportsmen’s camps he ran,” said Kevin Kisow, Independence Conservancy’s youngest director. “He’s a true conservation legend and we’ll miss him.”
Al is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ruth (Smith) Moran, son Victor Moran and family. He was a US Army veteran of the Korean Conflict, and worked as a pipefitter for 36 years at J&L Steel where his buddies in the Seamless Tube Department called him “Bulldozer.”
Al was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery with full military honors by the Beaver County Special Unit.
As a tribute to Al, cherish your family and friends, serve Christ and community, and care for the Earth.