Five groups and individuals are being honored for their commitment to local conservation efforts.

The Mercer County Conservation District recently presented the recipients with plaques, signs, and citations from elected officials for the organization’s Pioneers in Conservation Awards.

“We want to give credit where credit is due,” said Jacqueline McCullough, the MCCD environmental education coordinator.

MCCD representatives and the awardees gathered outside the Pig Barn at Munnell Run Farm in Coolspring Township, a group of curious cows providing the backdrop.

The awards were supposed to be presented in 2020, but that was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An awards dinner is expected to be scheduled later this year, when the 2021 recipients will also be recognized.

The award recipients are nominated, and that information is reviewed by the MCCD board. The organization hopes that the community is inspired by the awardees’ work, said Jay Russell, manager of MCCD.

“It’s what they’re doing, not what we’re doing,” he said.

There is no shortage of deserving recipients, said Mercer County Commissioner Tim McGonigle, who serves on the MCCD board of directors.

These are the award recipients:

Mark and Marie Canon: Individual Award

The Canons, who own a dairy farm in West Middlesex, have worked on reducing soil erosion and protecting water quality.

Canon continues to improve upon his no-till methods, using a combination of no-till and vertical-till to manage crops.

With help from NRCS in 2002, the Canons fenced their livestock out of the streams, which improved water quality and helps prevent stream bank erosion.

They have also planted native wildflowers to provide a beneficial habitat for pollinators.

The farm has been in their family since 1906, and Canon said it’s nice to be recognized.

The Canons, who installed solar panels on the milking barn roof, will soon be selling their bottled milk from their own creamery and at Palumbo’s Meat Market.

They’d also like to sell their own cheese, which is made by their daughter, Josie Offerdahl.

Sandy Creek Watershed Volunteers: Volunteer Award

This group of volunteers includes Gary Free, Deb Mercer, Jane Sauer and Dan Wilson, who monitor water quality at six different streams in the Sandy Creek Watershed, which is connected to Lake Wilhelm at Maurice K. Goddard State Park.

They collect weekly water samples to test phosphorus levels, which can impact lake water quality. They have volunteered more than 100 hours.

Larissa Cassano-Hamilton, a watershed specialist with MCCD, said the data is being used as a tool to help keep the streams healthy.

Phosphorus is found naturally in soil and it settles in lakes and create algae blooms, Russell said.

McGonigle said he’s noticed Lake Wilhelm looks cleaner following the water sampling.

That kind of volunteer work is critical, said Bill Wasser, former manager of Goddard.

“Community science is so essential. It really does make a difference,” McCullough said.

The volunteers said they love the lake and the park, which is why they are dedicated to the project.

They could always use more volunteers. For more information, contact Mark Scarpitti, Goddard manager, by calling 724-253-4833 or emailing goddardsp@pa.gov, or reach out to Friends of Maurice K. Goddard State Park by visiting friendsofgoddard.com

Bill Wasser: Conservationist Award

Wasser retired in 2020 as manager of Goddard, where he ran things for 13 years. He started out as an environmental educator in 1992 at Clear Creek State Park in Jefferson County and has since held similar roles at other state parks.

He has been instrumental in the growth of the bald eagle population at Goddard and expanded the woodcock habitat.

Wasser also worked with the MCCD on the Sandy Creek Watershed Growing Greener Grant, which helps local farmers reduce the amount of phosphorus draining into Lake Wilhelm.

That is connected to the Sandy Creek Watershed volunteers’ work, and the project got its start after Wasser reached out to MCCD, Russell said, adding that Wasser is passionate about what he does.

Lake Wilhelm is the centerpiece of the park, and taking care of it is a team effort, Wasser said.

“That’s what conservation is,” he said.

Harthegig Conservation Club: Organization Award

This club, located at 600 Rodgers Hill road just outside of Fredonia, provides outdoor programs for local youth and the community.

Annual events include Family Fun Day, set for Aug. 1, and Mercer County Sportsman’s Youth Field Day, which will be held this year on June 12.

Anyone can come to Family Fun Day, which includes shooting, archery, an auction, food, gun raffle and more, said Tom Shipton, club president. It is a fundraiser for the club, which is a nonprofit.

They also volunteer their time at the Great Stoneboro Fair, where they oversee the wildlife building; the Family Camp Out and Regatta at Riverside Park in Greenville; and with local scouts.

The club always welcomes new members and volunteers. They enjoy getting youth involved in outdoor activities, especially young ladies, Shipton said.

Kerry VanWoert: Educator Award

VanWoert teaches third grade at Mercer Elementary, where she’s helped her students reduce the use of plastic utensils, eliminate plastic straws district-wide and oversee a pollinator garden.

McCullough has been sharing monthly lessons with the students, who are preparing to hang hummingbird feeders outside the school.

The children are learning to not contaminate the environment and wildlife, and they’re making positive changes, VanWoert said.

“They are the voice of the future,” she said.

They excited to see their hard work pay off, and she is so proud of them.

The students are sharing what they learn at home, meaning that what they learn in school and from McCullough has a far-reaching impact.

“These kinds of experiences open up what we do,” Russell said.

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