Mastering nature: Pennsylvania Master Naturalist programs comes to Westmoreland |

Mastering nature: Pennsylvania Master Naturalist programs comes to Westmoreland

Stephen Huba
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
Melissa Reckner, Penguin Court program manager, leads a class on watersheds and wetlands for the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program on a recent Tuesday.
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
The Penguin Court Conservatory in Laughlintown, where the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program holds its classes.

Scott Jones spent a career exploring environmental issues from the regulatory side as a hydrogeologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Now that he’s retired, natural resources are more of an avocation than a vocation.

“I still have a really strong interest in the environment, but I was trying to find a way to channel that,” said Jones, 65, of Bear Rocks, Fayette County.

Jones found that way through the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program, which has been active in the eastern part of the state since 2010 but only introduced to Western Pennsylvania in 2018.

The program’s 12-week training course was first held in Allegheny and Washington counties and is now being offered in Westmoreland County.

“It’s certainly an area we were very interested in … because it’s so rich in wildlife, flora and fauna. It’s an obvious place to do training,” said Maeve Rafferty, Pennsylvania Master Naturalist coordinator for the Southwest Region.

What the program needed was a partner organization in Westmoreland County that could assist with the training. What it found was Penguin Court in Laughlintown — the former family home of the late Tribune-Review publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife, and now a preserve of Brandywine Conservancy.

Classes are held Tuesday evenings in the Penguin Court Conservatory, a three-wing structure built in the 1980s of stone and glass. It’s one of the few buildings left on the scenic 1,089-acre property. Four Saturday field trips also are part of the fall schedule.

On a recent Tuesday, the 10 class members met in the sunlit conservatory to learn about watersheds and wetlands from presenter Melissa Reckner, Penguin Court program manager.

Surrounded by a variety of plants, they came from diverse backgrounds. In addition to Jones, who specialized in abandoned coal mine issues for 37 years, they included a retired pharmacist, a Realtor, a biology professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and a staff member at the Westmoreland Conservation District.

But to be accepted into the Master Naturalist program does not require a specialized background, Rafferty said.

“We learn from each other,” she said. “They find out through this class what they’re really passionate about.”

Jessica Kadie-Barclay grew up in south Florida, went to college in Nebraska but “fell in love with the landscape of Western Pennsylvania” after moving here 12 years ago. She now is CEO of West Overton Village & Museum in Scottdale.

“To me, going through this program is a natural fit,” she said. “I’ve just come to find how all things are interrelated.”

Kadie-Barclay, 39, of Scottdale, also is on the board of the Jacobs Creek Watershed Association and can see using her Master Naturalist training to benefit the Jacobs Creek watershed or incorporating it into the museum’s programming.

The goal of the Master Naturalist program is to build up a cadre of trained volunteers that can assist local conservation organizations or serve as environmental educators, Rafferty said.

“The heart of the program is service, giving back to the community, protecting the natural resources of the local area,” she said.

In addition to completing the 12-week course, participants must do 30 hours of approved volunteer service and eight hours of approved advanced training/continuing education in order to graduate. In their second year, they must do 20 hours of approved volunteer service and 12 hours of advanced training/continuing education.

“We don’t expect our trainees to be master naturalists after a 12-week program, but maybe they can be somewhat masters in their field through years of working in the field and years of doing more study,” Rafferty said.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.