Thomas Saunders

Thomas D. Saunders is president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the region’s exceptional places.

A Natural Escape Minutes from Downtown

Some of the deep ravines in the regional landscape provide secluded getaways for hiking and exploring, while not far from the urban center. One such special place is the 370-acre Toms Run Nature Reserve, eight miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh, off Route 65 just before the I-79 interchange. The stream that intersects the reserve, Toms …

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A Walk in the Northern Woods

About two and a half hours northeast of Pittsburgh is a remote property in Elk and Clearfield counties known as Bennett Branch Forest. The 1,500-acre tract owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy adjoins Moshannon State Forest. Visitors can hike a newly designed 3.6-mile round-trip trail through forests of mixed oak, sugar maple, black birch and …

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Floating on the Shenango River

One wonderful way to see portions of our western Pennsylvania landscape is to paddle a river or stream by canoe or kayak. One place to paddle is the upper Shenango River in western Mercer County, 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. A 23-mile stretch flows unimpeded between the Pymatuning and Shenango reservoirs. The Iroquois name Shenango, …

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Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve

Southwestern Pennsylvania now has a world Heritage site. Fallingwater, designed in the 1930s by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family, was inscribed this summer to the UNESCO—United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—World Heritage List. It’s in good company: the few structures in the United States on this list include Independence Hall, the Statue …

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Our Glacial Heritage—Moraine State Park

One of the largest and most popular parks in Pennsylvania is Moraine State Park in Butler County, an easy drive north of Pittsburgh. The park offers 28 miles of trails, boating, swimming, fishing, ice-fishing, hunting, horseback riding, cycling and educational programs. Overnight accommodations include both campsites and lakeside cabins. The story of the park begins …

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The Joshua C. Whetzel, Jr., Trail

There is a beautiful new trail to hike, just outside Confluence, a quaint town in the Laurel Highlands situated at the confluence of the Casselman River, Laurel Hill Creek and the Youghiogheny River, in Somerset County. Confluence is a popular area for hiking, paddling and fishing, and it is one of the notable stops for …

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Hiking in Laurel Hill State Park

Second only to Alaska, Pennsylvania hosts more than 86,000 miles of streams and rivers. Our state also provides hundreds of hiking trails covering elevations from near sea level to the highest point in the state, Mount Davis. While ridgeline treks often offer sweeping vistas, Pennsylvania’s best hikes also include forested trails along our beautiful streams. …

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The Tionesta Natural Areas

The largest remaining uncut forest in Pennsylvania is the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. This remote 4,000-acre area is almost equally divided between the Tionesta Research Natural Area and adjoining Tionesta Scenic Natural Area, which are managed for science and aesthetic values. Situated along creeks at the top of the 2,000-foot-high Allegheny High Plateau, …

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Saving Bats and Great Fishing Along Spruce Creek

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has recently acquired a unique property in northern Huntingdon County that does two unusual things—provides public access for world-class trout fishing on Spruce Creek and helps save struggling bats with desperately needed habitat. In addition to the exceptional fishing, this 13-acre property includes a major limestone cave network that may provide …

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Tryon-Weber Woods Natural Area

There are many forests to enjoy in Penn’s Woods, but one of the best examples of a mature beech-maple forest can be found in Tryon-Weber Woods, in western Crawford County about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh. This 100-acre property was originally protected by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1976, and was just expanded last year. …

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The Allegheny River

In many ways, the Allegheny River is the centerpiece of our region. It traverses landscapes from wilderness to urban and provides recreational opportunities in many different places along its course. One of the most spectacular parts of the river is the free-flowing 125 miles of the middle Allegheny from the Kinzua Dam in Warren County …

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A Mountain in the Winter

People often hike through landscapes without having a real sense of the place. In the Laurel Highlands, there is an opportunity to get a “sense of place” before or after your trek, by taking advantage of a sweeping bird’s-eye view of the east flank of Laurel Hill and the Laurel Hill Creek valley, at the …

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Exploring the Cherry Run Game Lands

Traveling east from our Pittsburgh plateau area to the central Appalachian Mountains in the middle of the state makes us aware of the vast and diverse lands of Penn’s Woods. Hikers and nature lovers can experience the unique characteristics of central Pennsylvania’s rugged mountain terrain by exploring the Cherry Run watershed and State Game Lands …

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A Walk in the Woods

Cook Forest State Park, home to magnificent old-growth forest, is a prime destination for anyone interested in scenic beauty, natural history and a variety of recreational opportunities. Located 75 miles north of Pittsburgh in Clarion County, the state park is named for John Cook, the first American to settle in the area, in 1826. By …

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A Waterway Renewed

A beautiful place to enjoy nature this spring is approximately two hours north of Pittsburgh along the banks of the Bennett Branch in Elk County. The Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area includes 24 acres of forested land, located off State Route 555 in Benezette Township, and provides direct access to this recovering stream. …

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Old-Growth Majesty

One of the most spectacular places to visit in western Pennsylvania is an old-growth forest in the Hearts Content National Scenic Area within the Allegheny National Forest. A timber company gave the property to the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1920s, and today this area is home to one of the last remaining untouched …

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Erie Bluffs State Park

One of the most distinctive places to explore in Pennsylvania is Erie Bluffs State Park. Located west of the City of Erie, the park sits along more than a mile of lakefront near Lake City, west of the mouth of Elk Creek and north of PA Route 5. The park’s 587 acres are mostly rustic, …

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The Clarion River

One of the best rivers in western Pennsylvania for paddling and nature watching is the Clarion River, starting about 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. The Clarion River corridor between the towns of Ridgway and Clarion is remote, rich in public lands and hosts large expanses of uninterrupted forest. Today’s Clarion belies its history. About a …

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Great Allegheny Passage

One of the most wonderful trail additions in western Pennsylvania has been the Great Allegheny Passage which runs 150 miles between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md., where it joins the C&O Canal Towpath and continues to Washington, D.C. Some of the most remote and scenic parts of the trail are the portions along the Casselman River …

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Helen B. Katz Natural Area

Although colder temperatures and snow are upon us, there are still many things to do and places to see in our beautiful western Pennsylvania landscape. One is the 284-acre Helen B. Katz Natural Area near Meadville in Crawford County. Part of protecting our region’s rivers and streams is conserving the surrounding land in key locations. …

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The Miller Esker

About 23,000 years ago, a massive sheet of ice, likely a mile high, extended down from the Arctic. It travelled as far south as present-day Moraine State Park in Butler County before melting and shrinking back to the north. It left behind a rare and subtle geological formation known as an esker. As the glacier …

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Enlow Fork

Tucked away 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is a stream called Enlow Fork, a tributary of Wheeling Creek, on the circuitous border of Washington and Greene counties. Enlow Fork flows nearly 20 miles east to west, before entering West Virginia’s northern panhandle to later join the Ohio River at Wheeling. This corner of Pennsylvania is …

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