Watershed Farm project marks major milestone
A vision nearly 15 years in the making marked a major milestone Friday when the Watershed Farm Project was revealed during a special ceremony on the 123-acre former McConnaughey Family Farm owned by the Loyalhanna Watershed Association.
“When we were looking for the proper name for this ceremony, we decided on “ground-saving” because we are not rebuilding on the site we are saving an historic site,” said Susan Huba the association's executive director.
Since 2000, the association's board has worked to protect the pastureland, woodland and wetland habitat located on the hill above the Ligonier Country Market grounds.
When board members first began talking about what to do with the property, it was a natural fit to be called The Watershed Farm and the new office space for the association.
“This farm is the first thing you see when you enter the Ligonier Valley and it is the last thing you see when you leave,” said Huba.“To the people who grew up here and live here, this has always been a farm, an open space.”
The association partnered with numerous organizations, foundations and individuals to get the Watershed Farm Adaptive Reuse Project underway.
“The reason the Loyalhanna Watershed Association has been so successful for 43 years is because of the partnerships we've formed with so many people and organizations,” Huba said.
A wildlife habitat conservation plan was initiated to preserve the farmland.
A feasibility study was conducted to determine the condition of the house and barn structures. As a result, a proposal for the adaptive reuse of the farmhouse as the staff office space and the barn for educational use was adopted.
The first phase of the adaptive reuse project, including a rotating grazing plan for cattle to use the pasture was implemented and the 5-acre wetlands restoration project on the lower farm was completed. Nearly 2,000 trees were planted to create fencing and stream buffering.
For the last six months, tenant farmer Ken Reed, owner of KR Cattle in Derry, has been tending to 30 head of beef cattle on the farm.
Reed is raising the cattle for the Logan Family Farm of Irwin, who will, in turn, use Hoffer's Meat Packing in Ligonier Township to process the beef.
“It's good to see the cattle are back on the farm. It's gone full circle,” Reed said.
Reed is looking forward to working with the association to provide educational programs about cattle farming and helping to make the farm more accessible to school groups.
“The view from the hillside above Ligonier, it takes your breath away,” said Reed.
Aug. 8 marks significant milestone
Huba said Aug. 8 was selected as the next phase start date because of its historical significance to the house and the McConnaughey family.
“On our first visit to the farm, we discovered a threshold stone at the front door of the house with the date, 8-8-85, carved on its surface,” Huba said. “Now, we are standing here today, 129 years to the day, to begin this project.”
The restored farmhouse will provide office space on two floors.
“We want to be visible for the community, who have been so supportive. It is important to them that these buildings are saved. The best way to make sure the property is preserved is to be there and manage it ourselves,” Huba said.
The original flooring will be restored. Paneling will be removed for replumbing and rewiring but will be put back in place and refinished in order to maintain the original appearance.
Windows will be replaced in the cupola. However, original artwork drawn on the cupola's wall by the McConnaughey children will remain untouched. The front porch will be restored to its original construction.
“We could not tear it down, it needed to be saved,” Huba said. “We were determined to keep that little bit of history if we can.”
Huba will work with Studio Phipps:Sustainable Design Group at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens to plan the design landscaping for the property.
Eventually, Huba said, the new walkways surrounding the house will connect with the Ligonier Country Market loop of the Ligonier Valley Trail system.
Bricks for the house were made on a site below the house using clay from the wetlands area. Huba said they hope to discover the location of the kiln during the landscaping project.
Barn transforms into educational facility
The barn will be transformed into an educational facility to be used by the association and like-minded organizations.
It will be named the Nimick Family Education Center in honor of the Nimick Forbesway Foundation, established by Thomas Nimick Jr.
The Nimick family was the first to be on board with this project,” Huba said.” Tom Nimick cared so much about the environment.”
The foundation has offered to match public donations dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000 to fund the barn rehabilitation portion of the project.
The lower level of the barn will remain much the same, but will get a new concrete floor. The electronics recycling program will be conducted on this level.
A portion of the upper level will be renovated to provide educational meeting rooms.
“We want to keep a lot of the elements that make it charming,” Huba said.
At the end of the project, the exisiting watershed facilities, located on Andi Drive, will be torn down, with most of the materials being recycled.
Family members attend ‘ground-saving'
Several members of the McConnaughey family attended the ceremony.
Darlene Delaini of Greensburg, a great-granddaughter of John Callendar McConnaughey said she remembers sitting on the porch steps as a young child and looking out over Ligonier.
“I remember talking to my grandmother, Alice (McConnaughey) Rush about her aunt Alice, whom she was named after,” said Delaini. “I remember she told us her aunt fell off of a horse and was the first person buried in the Ligonier Valley Cemetery.”
Dona (Truxal) DeFelice of Greensburg accompanied her sister to the ceremony. She said she was too young at the time to remember visiting the family homestead.
A cousin, Rick Johnston, said he too was quite young when his family visited the farm.
“I remember coming to visit with my folks on occasion in the 1970s and talking to one of the McConnaughey brothers who owned the farm at the time,” said Johnston.
The McConnaughey descendants said they were amazed to see the plans for the house and property and are looking forward to touring the grounds.
The project will be completed by the summer of 2016. Huba said the community will have access to the facility and the grounds.
“The view from the top of the wetlands below the house is phenomenal,” Huba said. “It is stunning. You can see the entire Valley.”
That view will, one day, be accessible to anyone using the Watershed Loop trail.
“We want people to feel welcome, to come up and see the view and enjoy the birds,” Huba said. “It's a working farm. People can see what is being done in regards to control storm water damage. We will show people what they can do on their own property.”
Fundraising efforts continue
The watershed association has raised more than $1.4 million of the $2-million project through state and federal funding, private foundation grants and contributions from individuals.
An additional $600,000 is needed to meet its goal.
Huba said public fundraising efforts, including a walkway paver program, are in the planning stages.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.