Blair County Conservation District Celebrates 50 years with an Exciting New Project

Blair County Conservation District Celebrates 50 Years with an Exciting New Project

By: Donna Fisher, District Managaer Blair County Conservation District

“The Mission of the Blair County Conservation District is the protection, preservation, and enhancement of Blair County’s natural resources by providing technical assistance and educational guidance.”

Proposed LEED Gold Certified Conservation District Office Building – 6,000 sq. ft. with Conference Room

Proposed LEED Gold Certified Conservation District Office Building – 6,000 sq. ft. with Conference Room

Since its inception in 1966, the Conservation District has been serving Blair County residents and municipalities with technical and financial support for their natural resource enhancements, protection and preservation projects.  Our primary focus in our early years was related to Blair County’s Number 1 Industry – Agriculture and we have continued to support our Ag constituents throughout our 50 years.  Having a conservation district provided the avenue for both technical and financial assistance by USDA to Blair County Landowners.  The District partnered with USDA through the 1980’s to administer the Clover Creek Watershed Project which led to nearly a million dollars of cost share funds paid to landowners to install Best Management Practice, designed and built to control erosion and nutrient pollution to one of the County’s High Quality Streams.  In the 1990’s and through today, we are still working with both NRCS and now also the PA, Department of Environmental Protection to accomplish the same through the Chesapeake Bay Program, in fact over a million dollars has been brought to Blair County for that program as well!

Starting in the mid 1990’s the District began to focus on another resource concern – Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD).  We have several watersheds on the western side of Blair County that are significantly impacted by AMD, we chose a watershed based approach to tackle the pollution to Glen White Run, which flows under the Horseshoe Curve and into the water supply reservoir.  8 sites were targeted for remediation and restoration with the final site being completed in 2002.  As a result, approximately 3.8 miles of stream has been restored increasing the water quality flowing into the reservoir system.

Through the years the District has undertaken projects big and small for the betterment of our natural resources through technical and financial assistance.  Starting in 2006, the district increased our educational efforts, by contracting with an Environmental Educator to advance educational opportunities for all Blair County Citizens.  In fact starting in 2012 and every year since, we have reached our goal of over 10,000 educational contacts per year – for students and the general population!

View from east showing proposed Solar Panels – Open area beneath panels will display Educational Signage describing LEED Gold Certified Building Components and Stormwater/Wetland Interpretation

View from east showing proposed Solar Panels – Open area beneath panels will display Educational Signage describing LEED Gold Certified Building Components and Stormwater/Wetland Interpretation

So that brings us to our exciting new project – the District’s “Conservation Park”.  In May of 2012 the Blair County Conservation District purchased 15 acres of property within the Borough of Hollidaysburg to develop a Conservation Park and to create an administrative hub for district operations with a proposed LEED Gold certified office and conference complex.  The property is located at the intersection of RT 36 and Bedford Street just south of Hollidaysburg center.   Rich with natural resources, the property has several hundred feet of river corridor along the Beaverdam Branch of the Juniata River where we anticipate restoring the Forested Riparian Buffer and creating a soft access to the river.  We also have about 12 of our 15 acres classified as Floodway, Floodplain and Exceptional Value Wetlands.  It is the intent of the District to develop this site in at deliberate and thoughtful manner to allow our project to work with and enhance our site conditions and showcase environmentally friendly and efficient practices in the real world and to the real world public!

The Master Plan identifies trails, walkways, pavilions, demonstration gardens, rain gardens demonstrating “green” stormwater practices, riparian forest buffer enhancement and an elevated walkway through a wetland created as a mitigation area.  Estimated project costs total $520,000 with about half of those funds in hand via a contract with DCNR, Community Conservation Partnerships Program.  The District has made application to DCED, Greenways Trails and Recreation Program for another $250,000, with the balance remaining committed from Conservation District Funds.  Construction of Blair County’s first Environmental/Conservation Education focused Park may begin as early as 2017.  The Conservation Park is Phase 1…..Phase 2 will be the construction of a LEED Certified Office Building.

This is where it gets really exciting….we hope to showcase a multitude of innovative and progressive practices and products to demonstrate sound management of our natural resources.  Through the construction of our proposed 6,000 sq.ft. office building (including a small conference room – seating for 75) we hope to create a LEED certified structure that will be available for public use.  We have proposed a Green (Vegetated) Roof System, Rain Water Capture Systems, Grey Water Reuse, Energy Efficient Heat Pump System, Solar Options and Daylight Harvesting, Pervious Parking and of course Green Alternatives for Stormwater .

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Roof Top view showing Green Roof Alternative with Stormwater Collection to Cisterns

The common theme through both Phase 1 and Phase 2 will be education.  We are proposing extensive interpretive signage throughout the project for both passive and guided education.  As we occupy the facility we will continue to track the costs and efficiency levels of our environmentally responsible building options and make that information available to the public and development community.  This project will be a working example of how things can be done now and into the future!  Funding alternatives for the Office Complex are being compiled currently by the Conservation District Board and Staff.  We anticipate opportunities for a Community Based Capital Fundraising Campaign to be considered as part of the funding scheme.

The Blair Conservation District does not intend to forget our roots in Agriculture, or abandoned our Watershed Restoration Efforts, or eliminate projects with our local Municipalities.  We will strengthen all of our current programs by incorporating increased education and demonstration at the District Property.  We will do – as we have taught.  For more information about the district property or any of our programs, please contact Donna Fisher, District Manager at 814-696-0877 ext. 5 or email at dfisher@blairconservationdistrict.org.  You may also visit our Website for information at www.blairconservationdistrict.org.

Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway