The Early Years of the Conservancy
This is an excerpt from a speech by Bob Wells at the 1999 Annual Meeting. Bob Wells was the first Conservancy president.
An adventure like the Conservancy takes the energy of many people working together over an extended period. Examining the beginnings of such a project is interesting and worthwhile.
In the beginning it was Beadling Woods. When Anne and I returned after six years in Europe, it was a quiet woodland with a few paths through it – and some deer wandering randomly. Some of the paths were used to get across to Markham School. One big change was that the woods was laid out for housing development. Fortunately, soon after our return the commissioners, with Taylor Iams as a leader, bought Beadling Woods.
In 1983 soccer was growing rapidly in Mt. Lebanon. The soccer organization wanted an international sized field and went to the commissioners with the proposal that it be built in the upper part of Bird Park. The commissioners quickly agreed without any significant dialogue with other groups.
When the soccer field plans became known, objections surfaced immediately, but the municipality moved right ahead. One day crews moved in to start cutting trees in the park. That same day protestors moved in, and some tied themselves to trees. This delayed clearing for a while until signs were installed reading “No Trespassing,” and work crews moved in again.
There soon emerged a “think tank” which Anne and I called “the three schemers.” We would see Marlene Millick, Katie Anderson and Betsy Sargent in conference and knew that they were generating some useful ideas .
The citizens of Mt. Lebanon petitioned for the woods be saved. More than 5,000 signatures were collected; this was a large number compared with our voting population. However, the construction continued.
Next a lawyer was hired, but we ran up sizeable legal bills. Too many of us had ideas to pass on to the lawyer, and these contacts caused the lawyer’s meter to run faster.
When the court case was being heard, many people attended. The judge said that he was impressed by the number who came. However, he ruled against us, and the soccer field construction went ahead vigorously.
Then came the idea of a conservancy – organizing to do something constructive and useful with the woodland before someone came up with an idea to “develop” the rest of the park. After all, as one commissioner is said to have observed, “the park is nothing but nature run amok.”
Some ideas that emerged: Verna McGinley’s nature studies, trail improvements, Analee Fitzgibbon’s bird walks and “School in the Park.”
The efforts of many have sustained an active community interest in preserving our open space, “our breathing room.” This has kept the conservancy going and growing. I salute those who started all this but even more those who kept it going for fifteen years.
Winners of the Robert L. Wells award recognizing extraordinary service in support of the conservancy’s goals are pictured. Front row: Mary Elm 1996 (year awarded) and Pam Burrett 1997. Back row: Fred Schnure 1999, June Delano 1990, Robert Wells 1989, Katie Anderson 1991, Tom Cummins 1996, Kenton McElhattan 1992. Verna McGinley, 1989, was not available for this picture.