Outdoorsman puts elbow grease to hiking trails, forests
Luke Miney of Latrobe is organizing another party at the scenic Beam Rocks overlook in Somerset County along the Westmoreland border.
Miney's gatherings atop Laurel Mountain aren't traditional parties people associate with Beam Rocks. Instead, the affairs can be described as literally environmentally cleansing.
Since 2015, Miney, 32, a machinist by trade and a volunteer trail steward on the side, has spearheaded general cleanups — commonly known as “Graffiti Busting Parties” — atop the popular cliff and hiking trail in Forbes State Forest.
“Growing up, since I was a little kid, I always enjoyed hiking and the outdoors here. Seeing all the graffiti on the rocks and trash along the trails, I would always get ticked off and tell everyone, ‘Someone should do something about this,' ” Miney said.
It wasn't until July 2015 after Miney returned to his native Western Pennsylvania after weeks hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and Virginia that he took matters into his own hands.
“I saw online the state parks and forestry foundation was looking for volunteer trail stewards to assist with cleaning up and clearing trails in certain areas and Beam Rocks was available. I decided then: Why not me? I've been enjoying that area for at least 25 years and I wanted to stay involved,” Miney said.
The 10 a.m. June 2 gathering at Beam Rocks is dubbed “Clean the Beam” and the volunteers will use environmentally friendly solvents to clean graffiti from the rocks, pick up trash and remove trees and large branches blocking trails.
Amanda Trimmer, public relations and outreach coordinator with the nonprofit state parks and forest foundation, is familiar with Miney's efforts and has attended some of the Western Pennsylvania events.
“I can tell you firsthand that when Luke says he's going to do something, he definitely does it. He's very ambitious, dedicated and loves to be outside,” Trimmer said.
“Luke is quite a soldier against graffiti. We have identified 37 graffiti hot spots statewide and we've been working on cleaning them up. ... In addition to Beam Rocks, there have been parties at McConnells Mills and Pymatuning State Park, to name a few,” she said.
Miney said the Forbes State Forest District office in Laughlintown and his own Facebook page publicize the cleanups that usually are held in the spring or fall.
One year, the cleanup drew 80 helpers, while others draw just a handful of volunteers, he said.
“One time a group of students who belong to an environmental group from the University of Pittsburgh came out and helped. After the cleanup, they stayed to climb the rocks,” Miney said.
The Southwestern Pa. Climbers Coalition also has lent a hand.
“It's really a unique rock formation. We're really fortunate to have it right here in our backyard, and we should take care of it,” he said.
Forbes State Forest comprises about 60,000 acres in Somerset, Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
Beam Rocks on the Laurel Summit, just past Laurel Mt. Ski Resort, is known for its 80-foot summit and has been a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers.
“I feel I'm giving back to the hiking community,” he said.
Miney has enjoyed the volunteer steward experience so much he signed up to be a steward of an additional 16-mile tract of the 70-mile-long Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail that begins in Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County and heads north to Seward in Westmoreland County. Miney is steward of a section from the Beam Rocks area in Ligonier Township, north into Seward.
“It's really rewarding,” he said.
Fellow hiking enthusiast Jessica Golden of Latrobe said Miney takes the work seriously.
“We'll come up here and he'll see some graffiti and his attention will drift off to that. Luke truly has a love for the outdoors, and he's definitely passionate about it,” Golden said.
Miney admits the volunteer work can be frustrating when he returns to the scenic locations to hike.
“Last fall, I spent several hundred dollars on the elephant snot (graffiti cleaning solvent) and two weeks later I came up here and it had been painted again,” Miney said.
Miney said cleanup participants have to be 18 or older, or be accompanied by an adult or guardian.
The June 2 event is publicized to begin at about 10 a.m., “but sometimes it doesn't get under way until after noon because it has to be warm enough for the solvents to work,” he said.
Miney noted that due to the lack of flat surfaces in the rock formations, and the numerous crevices, “there's a lot of elbow grease involved.”
The nonprofit parks and forest foundation, headquartered in Camp Hill, seeks to promote stewardship of the state's 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of forest land through public engagement in volunteerism, education and recreation.
For more information on the group's trail stewardship program, contact paparksandforests.org