Roaring Run Watershed Association pays fitting tribute to late naturalist Rau
A longtime advocate for the environment and scholarship, the late Margaret “Kepp” Rau's dedication to both now are recognized at the Roaring Run Trail.
The Roaring Run Watershed Association, which maintains the 650-acre property that includes the trail and surrounding woods in Kiski Township, this summer named a 40-acre wooded parcel after Rau.
The Margaret Rau Natural Area includes some of the last old-growth trees on the watershed's property, which was heavily logged over the years, according to Rich Dixon of Apollo, an association member.
Dixon said the Rau Natural Area, located above the formal Roaring Run Trail near the Edmon trailhead, does not include any maintained trails.
Instead, it offers visitors a chance to ramble through the woods and climb the hills for a scenic view high above the Kiski River Valley.
Rau's family said she would have appreciated the association's commitment to maintaining the area's natural habitat.
Rau, who would have turned 100 this past February, died in 2006 at the age of 92. She was a lifelong resident of Apollo until she moved to North Carolina to be with her son, Rob Rau, in her last years.
Nicknamed “Kepp” due to her maiden name of Kepple, Margaret Rau was a lifelong naturalist who enjoyed hiking through the woods, admiring wildflowers and watching birds.
“Our whole family, we're not real big on development,” Rob Rau said. “We'd like to see the natural preservation of land.”
Rau said his mother grew up exploring the Kiski River Valley and took her only child on hiking, biking and camping trips through the area.
Margaret Rau's second cousin, Rhonda Buttacavoli of Washington Township, said Rau spoke of preparing once to take her young son and his friends camping.
She researched books on the area and loaded a backpack full of them for the trip. She spent a month walking around Apollo to get in shape.
“She said, ‘I just felt it was very important to get them out in the woods,' ” Buttacavoli recalled. “It really seemed to make a difference for all of them. That's all she cared about.”
Rau also served as a librarian at Apollo Memorial Library, formed the first library at St. James Roman Catholic Church's parochial school and taught Sunday school at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Apollo.
A charter member when the Roaring Run Watershed Association formed in 1982, Rau wrote of the area's history for association newsletters and made presentations to civic groups about the organization's goals.
“She was extremely focused and dedicated,” Buttacavoli said. “She was a real credit to our community.”
In 2001, the Rau family established a $50,000 endowment to benefit trail maintenance.
Through donations and investment income, the fund has more than doubled. It recently was used for the first time to buy a tractor, Rob Rau said.
“It's amazing what the people who work with the watershed have done over the years,” he said. “To me, it's a real asset to the Kiski Valley.”
In addition to working toward the continued expansion of a trail network along the Kiski River, Dixon said the group is considering adding an environmental learning center near the main Roaring Run trailhead outside Apollo.
Buttacavoli, also an association member, said she'd like to see more schools and youth groups get kids on the trail and learning about the environment and the region's history.
She'd especially like people to know about the efforts made to reclaim the Kiski River and its surroundings that once were ravaged by acid mine drainage and the region's industrial past.
“Growing up, the river was orange and it was dead,” Buttacavoli said. “You didn't want to spend any time there. It's not like that anymore.”
“In explaining how you practice stewardship and how (the river) has been cleaned up, you can also teach the kids about the older history — iron furnaces and what it took to survive in the Pennsylvania wilderness.”
John Linkes of Leechburg, another association member, said this is the first time a portion of watershed property has been named in someone's honor.
The group plans to place a marker near the Edmon trailhead recognizing the Margaret Rau Natural Area.
They want to include a quotation from Henry David Thoreau: “I think that each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, nor for the navy, nor to make wagons, but stand and decay for higher uses — a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.”
Buttacavoli wasn't certain how Rau, whose ashes were scattered on watershed property, would react to having the natural area named in her honor.
“She was very practical and down to earth and unassuming,” Buttacavoli said. “I think she would be very touched and pretty surprised. I know she'd be delighted it's being preserved.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.