Wednesday, May 5, 2021

PA Parks & Forests Foundation: Celebrate The Innovative, Amazing Work Of 19 COVID Champions May 12 Virtual Awards Ceremony

Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation invites you to celebrate the work of park and forest staff and volunteers across the state who worked to ensure people had safe ways to engage in the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We will gather virtually on May 12 at 6:30 p.m. to hear their inspiring stories.  The virtual ceremony is sponsored by Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). Read more here.

For instance, you will learn about Brandi Aulston, who started “Hike and Heal” to show how all women in Philadelphia can safely share time in nature, and Gary Kirk, a volunteer at the White Clay Creek Preserve who repaired bridges and cleared ditches on an almost daily basis to ensure cyclists and hikers could safely use the trails. 

All told, nineteen awards will be given to individuals and groups in the categories of communications, public safety, education, stewardship, and ambassadors. 


The complete list of award winners includes-- 


-- Brandi Aulston (Philadelphia): Not only a COVID champion, but a champion for Women in the Outdoors by offering safe, socially-distanced group hiking opportunities, as well as community building and nature focused opportunities, for diverse Philadelphia women.

-- Ryan Beltz, Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy (Montgomery County): Working to achieve mission goals that are volunteer dependent added a layer of complexity during COVID. Ryan sought new means to connect with the volunteer base, reimagining the PWC programs to create safe environments for volunteerism.

-- Angelina Capozzi, Upper Gwynedd Township (Montgomery County): When COVID restrictions took effect, Angeline took it as a challenge to create new ways to offer educational opportunities from story walks to sensory walks to providing students with items that they needed to create a food pantry.

-- AeLin Compton, Philly Parks and Recreation (Philadelphia County): When budget cuts made operations challenging, AeLin went above and beyond to develop new programs to engage volunteers to support the park.

-- Amanda Galvan (Bedford County): 2020 presented many challenges, yet Amanda stepped up to the challenges with a smile on her face and a can-do attitude. She made over 200 masks for DCNR employees, participated in ongoing trail work, did many solo clean-up projects when parks and forests were hammered with litter, and worked with PPFF to organize a tree planting.

-- Cindy Hogeman, Capital Area Greenbelt (Dauphin County): A founding member of the Greenbelt, Cindy has taken volunteerism to new levels after assuming management of the Five Senses Garden, a beloved place of respite on the Greenbelt. In addition to structural changes, she updated gardening practices, created a safe place for outdoor weddings during COVID, facilitated a partnership with the Harrisburg Keystone Rotary Club for updates to the Martin Luther King Garden.

-- Onnolee Jansen, Kings Gap Environmental Education Center (Cumberland County): Only in her second year as Program Manager for the park, Onnolee pivoted when COVID restrictions limited in-person programming. She created a storybook trail and a virtual summer camp for children and their families, as well as other virtual programs.

-- Gary Kirk, Friends of White Clay Creek Preserve (Chester County): Gary is trail master for the Friends and in 2020 went above and beyond during a time of heavy storms, heavy use, and decreased volunteerism. Without Gary, trails would have been unsafe and potentially closed.

-- Maintenance Supervisor Cody Miller, French Creek Complex (Berks and Chester County): While Cody always goes above and beyond in his work, this year presented particular challenges which Cody rose to meet. In addition to leading the maintenance program at the complex, he responded to needs across the region, offering expertise and additional staff.

-- Luke Miney and Georgetta Frederick (Westmoreland and Cambria counties): Luke was one of PPFF’s first Stewards of Penn’s Woods, taking on the task of monitoring and cleaning Beam Rocks in the Forbes State Forest. During the pandemic, graffiti in our parks and forests grew. Luke not only continued to steward Beam Rocks, he inspired a new steward for Wolf Rock in Gallitzin State Forest, Georgetta Frederick. Together, they raised funds for a massive clean-up, inspiring others to join in their efforts.

-- Mike Teeter (Bedford County): Mike and his family have always been passionate about the outdoors, spreading the message on the health benefits of being outside. During the pandemic, this enthusiasm benefited others, as he shared his vast knowledge of where to go and what to do with less experienced people seeking to find health and connection in the outdoors.

-- Ranger 1 Hannah Wilson, Colonel Denning Complex (Perry County): Nominated by a visitor, Hannah was the only ranger remaining after two left the complex to accept different positions. She coordinated campers, provided camper services, and kept smiling through it all.


-- Park and Forest Rangers (across PA): Recognizes all 232 rangers who kept people safe and addressed increased issues in

-- DCNR Communication Team (Harrisburg): Recognizes the 4-member communication team in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who empowered safe outdoor recreation during the pandemic through communication, videos, and other timely information to disperse recreation, thus ensuring social distancing and safety.

-- Incident Response Team 53 from the Bureau of Forestry, Division of Forest Fire Protection: The Team’s skills were called upon for additional assignments to address COVID-19 challenges, such as setting up testing sites, maintaining testing sites, assisting county emergency personnel, and supporting logistical operations at PEMA.

-- Friends of Beltzville State Park (Carbon County): In a regular year, attendance at Beltzville State Park exceeds capacity. In 2020, that number soared even higher, putting inordinate pressure on the park, the resources, the roads, and the temper of local citizens. The Friends of Beltzville stepped up to assist in any way that they could—from picking up trash, directing and educating visitors, and serving as a resource. They did this at some personal risk, as some locals defined them as “enablers” for the new visitors.

-- Friends of Trough Creek/Warriors Path (Bedford and Huntingdon Counties): The Friends didn’t let the closure of their events stop the work of this newly formed group. They pivoted and looked for other ways to assist the parks, from

-- PPFF Mask Brigade: When the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reached out to PPFF to ask for assistance in procuring masks for park and forest employees, PPFF put out the call. Volunteers responded. In about two weeks, over 2,000 masks were produced and shipped to essential workers.

-- Tookany-Tacony/Frankford Watershed Group (Montgomery County through Philadelphia): Understanding the important role that the outdoors were playing for community health, the TTF Watershed Partnership got to work developing new protocols and programs to engagement and education, expanding virtual programing and socially distanced ways to volunteer.

50th Anniversary Of Environmental Rights Amendment

The award ceremony will also be a time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people.”

“While we will once again miss the camaraderie and celebration that we experience each year at our awards banquet,” said Marci Mowery, President of PPFF, “we are excited to get together virtually to celebrate some amazing individuals and organizations who dealt with a year like no other, where state park visitation rose an unprecedented 23 percent, and challenges related to large crowds, excessive littering, and confusion about what was and wasn’t open in any given week, was frequent. These champions exemplify what it means to be an ambassador for Pennsylvania’s outdoors.”

Health Benefits Of Nature

Participants will also hear from keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Suk, who is System Wide Chairman of the Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute for the Geisinger Health System. 

He is one of the country’s earliest and leading proponents of the health benefits of nature, and will speak to some of those benefits, particularly during a global pandemic. 

How To Join The Ceremony

The Foundation encourages all citizens of the Commonwealth, as well as out-of-state visitors to our state parks and forests, to attend the virtual awards presentation. 

It will be live-streamed on the PPFF Facebook Page and YouTube channel

And while there is no fee to attend, participants are asked to consider “registering” for the event as they would the traditional PPFF banquet, by making a suggested donation of $50 – the traditional cost of a seat at the banquet and a salute to the ERA’s 50th anniversary. 

Click Here to learn more and register for the event.

For more information on programs, initiatives, special events and how you can get involved, visit the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Foundation,  Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter or tune in to their YouTube ChannelClick Here to become a member of the Foundation.

The Foundation and their 46 chapters mobilize 65,000 volunteers annually to steward YOUR state parks and forests.

[Posted: May 5, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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