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New face of Forbes hopes to help people enjoy state forest

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

In some ways, it's been the great unknown.

Forbes State Forest spans about 60,000 acres spread across three tracts in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties. It encompasses about as much land as Laurel Hill, Laurel Summit, Laurel Ridge, Linn Run, Ohiopyle, Kooser, Raccoon Creek, Moraine and Point State parks — combined.

Yet, most people don't know much about it, said district forester Ed Callahan.

“We get a lot of recreation, in every form. Hunting, hiking, you name it, the Forbes gets a lot of use,” Callahan said. “But all these people come to the forest, they do their thing, and they leave. And they rarely leave with a message.”

That may be about to change.

The Forbes recently became just the second of 19 state forest districts to hire an environmental education specialist.

Rachael Christie's job is a seasonal one — she works about eight and half months a year — but during that time she'll be leading hikes, backpacking trips, natural history events, trail runs and the like, while also talking to school and civic groups, working with volunteers and more.

“Because this position is new, there are no shoes to fill and no guide to follow,” Christie said. “I'm just looking to bring people outside and show them this wonderful resource we have in our back yard, Forbes State Forest. It's pretty unique and it's pretty big.”

Environmental educators are nothing new for state parks. But they are for state forests, said Jeff Woleslagle, communications section chief for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' bureau of forestry.

The bureau has always had service foresters who worked with private landowners, he said. But environmental educators will have a broader outreach focus, he said.

“This is more school related, more about campfire programs and hikes and fly fishing programs. It can pretty much run the gamut,” Woleslagle said.

The first forest educator was hired in Tiadaghton State Forest, in the area known as Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon, just two years ago. Others might yet follow, he said, based on interest and need.

Christie was hired late this season, but has led a few hikes already, and collaborated on events with local parks. Next year, which will be her first full season, she plans to do much more

“I'm very excited to see where this is all going to go,” she said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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