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Nonprofit supports activities at Moraine State Park

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:53 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Carol Bickel, Office Manager of the Owlet Gift Shop, and Captain Mike Brady dock the Nautical Nature pontoon boat at McDaniel's Launch at Moraine State Park Tuesday, September 17, 2013. The boat takes passengers out on environmental and educational cruises.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Carol Bickel, Office Manager at the Owlet Gift Shop at Moraine State Park, describes the feathers and pellets of a barn owl, like the one rear above at the shop Tuesday, September 12, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
A family enjoys the beach at Lakeview at Moraine State Park Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
A bicyclist meanders on the trail at Moraine State Park Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Gary McCune of New Wilmington, catches a big-mouth bass on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
A boat makes its way across Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Carol Bickel, Office Manager of the Owlet Gift Shop at Moraine State Park, inside the shop Tuesday, September 17, 2013. The shop is part of the Moraine Preservation Fund providing funding, educational and environmental programs for the park.

Visitors to Moraine State Park can check out fall's splendor from a different perspective until the end of October, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.

The Moraine Preservation Fund, a nonprofit group of about 100 members and volunteers that supports the park, offers popular cruises on Lake Arthur featuring pizza dinners and fall foliage and watercolor painting tours.

“The boat rides are one of the most popular activities in the park, more than we ever though they would be, especially the fall foliage trips. You pretty much always need to make a reservation, “ said Heather Jerry, a member of the fund's board and a volunteer for the past 20 years.

Organizations like the fund are increasingly associated with state parks, said Marci Mowery, executive director of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forestry Foundation, a statewide nonprofit that works with state parks and groups such as Jerry's.

About 50 of Pennsylvania's 120 state parks have an organization similar to the Moraine fund.

“These groups add a lot to the parks. They organize events, do trail work, work to raise funds, and serve as a bridge between the community and the parks and sponsor educational events. Budgets have gotten tighter, and they pay for extra things,” Mowery said.

The Moraine fund formed in 1988, 18 years after the park opened. Mowery said it is one of the older and more active park volunteer groups in the state. It has a budget of $50,000 to $60,000 a year and is funded by donations, grants and, sometimes, through state support.

“Not all park friends groups do nearly as much as the Moraine Preservation Fund,” she said.

In addition to running the boat trips, the fund operates the park's gift shop and nature center.

“They are a great partner of the park. They have contributed in many ways over the years with land acquisitions, helping to conserve lands and with some educational programs,” said Dustin Drew, the park's manager.

Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau, said Moraine, a 17,000 acre park, attracts about 1.7 million visitors each year. About two-thirds of them are from outside Butler County, he said.

“Moraine State Park is easily our No. 1 draw in the county. It is also a great story about reclaiming land. That area was strip mines and oil and gas wells before it became a park,” he said.

The group has sponsored several conservation and ecological projects in the park and surrounding area.

Since 2005, volunteers have placed more than 500 boxes that house barn owls around Butler County and in other counties as part of an effort to restore the owls' population.

One of the most common birds in the world, the barn owl lives on every continent except Antarctica. Its decline in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere is partially linked to the disappearance of grasslands where it flourishes.

It is listed as a species of special concern by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and as endangered by the state of Ohio.

In 1993, the Moraine fund started a four-year program to reintroduce the osprey at the park, resulting in six fledgling ospreys five years later. Ospreys are now again abundant in the area, according to the fund.

In 2009, the fund's volunteers converted an old, 18-foot osprey nesting tower in the park into a bat condo.

Project Batitat's aim is to protect the region's bat population and to reduce nuisance bat colonies that nest in residential attics.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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