Ned Karger, a retired forester and volunteer with the Kane Parks Commission and the Kane Area High School’s invasive plant project, shows a Japanese knotweed, an invasive species. At right is Maddie Stanisch, resource specialist with the McKean County Conservation District, who assisted with the project and advised the student group.

KANE — Representatives of government, schools, forestry industry and the media accompanied the staff of the McKean County Conservation’s annual tour Thursday that highlighted recent projects and work of the local natural resource agency.

Kerry Fetter, chairman of the conservation district’s board off directors, opened the activities at the Kinzua Bridge State Park, where the tour began, by noting this is the 60th anniversary of the agency that was organized at the request of county residents to provide conservation of soil and water, to assist in watershed protection protection and flood prevention for the benefit of the county’s residents.

“The county contributed $100 at that time,” Fetter said.

Since then, the district’s budget has grown to more than $2 million, with just $45,000 coming from the county.

From the beginning, the conservation district, one of 66 in Pennsylvania, has cooperated with local and state governmental agencies for the protection, improvement and conservation of the county’s water, soil and other natural resources, in addition to educating the public about numerous environmental and conservation methods and practices.

Fetter introduced Holly Dzemyan, environmental educator specialist for the Bureau of State Parks in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who spoke about the importance of that department’s partnership with the conservation district for carrying out educational programs and invasive plant management.

“You are here today to help DCNR to meet its mission of conserving and sustaining our natural resources, and help us to meet the goals of the Bureau of State Parks,” Dzemyan told the group.

Dzemyan pointed to the initiatives of DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn, some of which engage youths to appreciate the outdoors by offering summer employment for students to complete recreational and conservation projects at state parks.

“Students worked on the General Kane Trail and the Kinzua Valley Trail along Kinzua Creek,” according to Dzemyan. “We hope to connect these opportunities for youths getting paid and working outdoors to increased awareness of their stewardship for the outdoors.”

Noting that the Wild Envirothon Field Study Day and the Junior Envirothon are both held at the park, Dzemyan said, “This partnership with the conservation district has helped us become a classroom.”

Dzemyan also spoke about invasive plant species — those organisms that are not native to an area, but still have the tendency to spread so much ecological and economic harm to the new location — such as poison hemlock.

At the Kane Area High School, the group met with the students in Nick Byron’s conservation class that has assisted with work on invasive plants through the last school year. During the fall of 2018, the students learned about invasive plants, including the species and their ecologies and threats. Additionally, they learned to use iMapinvasives and mapped various infestations on the district’s middle school property

This spring, students assisted in mapping invasive plant infestations around the Kane area for KARE for Kane. They also removed a garlic mustard infestation at the Steve Jerman Memorial Park.

Working closely with and advising these students was Maddie Stanisch, resource specialist with the conservation district. Byron said the school district bought iPads for the class so GIS could show the impact of invasive species. “This has been a great opportunity for current students and those in the future,” Byron said.

During this visit, the students met with the tour group and explained their mapping project, which is a free online database used for documenting invasive species and prioritizing management efforts, sharing the data and promoting early detection and quick response initiatives.

Ned Karger, a retired forester and volunteer for the Kane Parks Commission, showed examples of the Japanese knotweed that is found in small patches in the Kane area.

Jody Groshek, communication and outreach director for the conservation district, said, “The students’ mapping information will be helpful in the district’s grant application process.”

Ludlow’s Wildcat Park was the tour’s second stop. Over a period of years, several projects to achieve streambank stabilization and vegetation at the park began with removing the dam in 2015 and continued with installing streambank structures and riparian plantings by students, resulting in a healthier riparian area and less flooding.

At the site, Sherry Dumire, a resource conservationist with the conservation district, said, “Removing sedimentation keeps pollution out of the stream, creating a better fish habitat.”

According to Doug Zaffino, treasurer of Wildcat Park, who talked to the group, the dam, which was built originally for swimming in the early 1900s, resulted in warm water harmful to aquatic life. “It needed repairs, and the conservation district provided the funding.”

The improvements opened 22 contiguous miles of stream for trout and other organisms.

The tour concluded at Wetmore Township Low Volume Road Project on West Kane Road, where improvements under the road surface now allow drainage to move through the road without damaging the surface.

Conservation district resource conservationist Lindsay Shine explained that two poorly working cross-pipes were removed and replaced with one new pipe. In the uphill ditch, 210 feet of underdrain were installed which results in cleaner filtered water when it flows into the stream.

The project’s total cost, Shine said, was $38,008, with a grant covering $28,848 and $14,160 of in-kind contributions.

Shine explained that the state’s Dirt, Gravel and Low Volume Road Maintenance Program provides funding to eliminate stream pollution caused by runoff and sediment from unpaved and low volume public roads. “We accomplish this goal through education, outreach and project funding,” she said.

Muccio Transportation provided the bus for this tour.

Conservation District Manager Sandy Thompson said that potential projects come to the district’s attention by individuals and governmental officials.