Reviving Small, Appalachian Towns with Local Assets

Walking down the streets of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, it feels a bit like a ghost town. There are houses, business signs, a post office, but only two cars drive by in 10 minutes and no one is walking the streets.

The small town in southern Pennsylvania is just across the West Virginia border. It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, surrounded by small hills and patches of trees. In years past, the town has weathered the boom and bust of a pottery industry, river trade and coal. Lately, it has been more bust than boom.

But now, some artists are trying to stimulate the local economy using what they know best: creativity. They are all part of the Greensboro Art Cooperative – a non-profit art collective.

The Co-Op

Shane McManus, a West Virginia native, is the founder of the co-op. He’s spent his life immersed in music and arts. Now at 31 years old, McManus is trying to use his love of the arts to revive the town.

“Our goal is to preserve the past, but promote the future. Through using what the past has given us, we can create really beautiful art in our small Appalachian towns, which in my opinion is diminishing,” he says.

One of the buildings of the Greensboro Art Cooperative. This building features finished pottery, as well as a pottery room, bike room and wood-working room.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

Three buildings on the main street of Greensboro make up the art co-op. The quiet atmosphere of the town abruptly changes when one walks into the former ice cream parlor turned ‘Music Shop,’ where McManus and his friends play music.

The entire room is filled with artwork and antiques. There’s a stone chair shaped like a hand, porcelain dolls lining the bookcases and a boar’s head hanging near the ceiling.

Live old-time Appalachian music fills the room. McManus and his friends Niko Kreider and Evan Collins are playing the tune called “Water Bound.”

McManus playing guitar in an impromptu jam. He is well-known in the region as a musician.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

The co-op not only provides a space for artists to sell their work, but it’s also a space for artists to create. There is a woodshop, a bike shop, pottery room, music room, painting area – anything an artist wants to do there is likely a tool for it.

Members pay a $200 lifetime membership or the equivalent in labor, and profits from wares made at the co-op are split 50/50 with the artist.

McManus says the goal is for the co-op to be a centerpiece for Greensboro, where the population is down to 249 people. He wants the co-op to be a reason for people to come visit, and a reason for people to stay.

“Getting them to see hope, where there was none. That’s why people leave, to find greener pastures,” McManus says.

History of Greensboro

Greensboro was once a thriving town with a rich artisan history. It was originally settled by German glass blowers in the 1700s.

Evan Collins (left) playing music with Niko Kreider (right.) The ‘Music Shop’ was formerly an ice cream parlor.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

It is also right on the Monongahela River, so it was part of a major river trading route.

Greensboro’s mayor Katie Sill says she’s heard stories of the early days when a hotel stood right by the river.

“At one point a circus came down the river and they had an elephant in the lobby. It was a booming and bustling town,” Sill says.

In the 1800s, the first large-scale pottery operation opened in Greensboro. The wet, muddy soil near the river creates rich clay — perfect for pottery.

“A lot of these New Geneva or Greensboro pots you see on Antiques Roadshow that go for $30,000 to $40,000 were made right here,” McManus says.

In fact, it is not rare to find 200-year-old pottery today. The co-op has preserved an original kiln used by settlers.

Finished pottery from members of the co-op. Profits from wares are split 50/50 with the artist and the co-op.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

But, as artisans moved away and trade moved away from rivers, Greensboro became less relevant. It made a slight comeback in the coal industry in the mid-1900s, but Sill says that too has disappeared.

“Some buildings have fallen into disrepair or [have] been torn down,” Sill says. “There are not really many businesses left in the town.”

The Economics

In some ways, Greensboro is not that different than many small Appalachian towns, where the coal industry, which was once a driving economic force, is now declining.

This leaves many towns without a sustainable economy, much like Greensboro.

Tim Ezzell is a research scientist at the University of Kentucky, and he focuses on asset-based development, which, as he explains it, means “using the assets you have at hand or at your disposal, basically what your community already has in place. Your local talents, resources, skills, art, heritage and using those to create economic opportunities for people in your community.”

Ezzell says concepts like the co-op can grow a town, but it has to be done realistically. As in, it is not cheap, it can take many years, it needs momentum and, most importantly, the local community must be accepting of change.

“Change is hard and you have to be willing to accept change in order to move forward,” he says.

And Greensboro Mayor Katie Sill says the town is ready for that change.

“We’re all really hopeful that we’ll get that next wave of whatever that wave will be,” she says. “Something new to bring a little bit of bustle into the town. I don’t know if it’s ever going to be quite the same, but every phase is different.

Co-op merchandise for sale. On cold days McManus uses a space heater to keep rooms warm.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

And the co-op is relying on local assets to try to bring about that next wave. Members are fixing up old store fronts to use as studios. They’re also using local clay to create art.

“Everything is donation, all of our resources have been found, donated, upcycled and recycled,” McManus says. “It’s really amazing what you can put together just with what you find around.”

As for operational costs, McManus says he’s been quite fortunate. His father, Keith McManus, has funded most of the co-op. A former mayor of the town, Keith is something of a musical legend in the region because of his involvement in the old-time music community over the years.

Looking Forward

People can be assets too, and in many ways Keith himself is one of the town’s greatest resources.

Because of the financial cushion, and Keith’s arts and music connections, McManus says there is not a push for co-op artists to mass produce and or even sell their work. Rather, they can focus on creating art.

A bust of Keith McManus in the former ice cream parlor. Keith has helped fund much of the co-op.
CREDIT CAITLIN TAN

“Our goal is to stay within a tri-county, if not a tri-state area. We don’t want to branch out as far as what we sell on the internet. We’ve purposely held out to keep our wares locally,” McManus says.

During the past eight years the co-op has renovated Greensboro’s old, abandoned theatre into a studio space. And it has 65 members — some from the Appalachian region, and others from across the world. Many are people McManus has met through work in the music and arts industry.

McManus says the co-op has given some of these artists a reason to either stay, or come back to create in Appalachia.

“So many of my peers and friends have had to go and move out of the state, out of Appalachia where they are from just to find a studio,” he says.

So artists come and go throughout the year — whether it is for an impromptu jam, to fix their bicycle or to make their next piece of pottery. Sill says this is important for the town.

“They breathe that extra bit of life when they are there,” she says.

The next goal for the co-op is for artists to work and live in Greensboro, but right now it is not fully developed.

The studio spaces are a little rough around the edges, and the storefront is still more of a working space. McManus hopes to renovate two buildings into a coffee shop and restaurant, but he says it takes time.

It takes time to create change, to bring Greensboro’s artisan history forward into the modern day. And it also takes a vision, like the ability to find strengths and assets in unlikely places.

It’s Fishing Time!!

For the second year in a row the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association stocked trout in Pigeon Creek for Opening Day. Starting at 7AM on Opening Day, 500 Rainbow Trout were released into Pigeon Creek between Peno Plaza on Park Ave, Monongahela, to the State Route 43 bridge on Bentleyville Rd. Interestingly, it wasn’t just ‘put & take’ fishing. I saw a number of trout caught & released. And it’s not a wasted effort either. One angler reported two trout caught recently, before the stocking, that had survived from last year’s stocking. A rainy summer certainly helped. The stocking also included 20 tagged fish that were worth prizes ranging from merchant gift cards to $100 cash. Great to see such support from the community.

 Frodo ( the wonder Poodle ) & got there about 11:30AM. Might as well give folks time to catch some fish. And catch them they did. We made our first stop near Peno Plaza. Groups of families  & friends like this dotted the bank at every place accessible from some parking area.

Weather was in the  high 60’s, sunny & mild. Perfect. Over several stops I found a number of anglers who’d caught from 1 to 3 trout. I saw 3-4 caught while we were walking along. One angler I talked with had released a trout & then pulled in this nice looking Monongahela River ” native trout” while we were chatting.

Yes, I know what a Carp is. 

 Another fellow across the way hollered over that he’d caught & released three legal sized Smallmouth Bass. And again, while we were watching he reeled in a fat Sheephead.

They were more than happy to pose for a shot. 

 An angler who had caught three trout had also caught a pan sized Rock Bass. 

 Next to the fact that there were a lot of family groups out there, the second most gratifying thing was that anglers were catching fish out of the spectrum of species found in the river & tributary system. That tells you that there is also a self reproducing sport fishery potential there.

 Many thanks again to the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association, merchants & individuals for supporting this event. Thanks to the volunteers who got up at an early hour on their Saturday to haul buckets of fish to the water. And thanks to the members & organizers who simply hop scotched from fishing spot to fishing spot to insure that things were proceeding safely & orderly. Well done.

Birding Excitement in Washington, PA

On Friday, 3/1, Frodo & I were walking around Peters Lake when we saw our first birder/photographer. Many others would follow. When I asked if he’d sen anything interesting, he answered, yes, a Hooded Merganser and an Arctic Long Billed something or other that I’d never heard of.

I’d heard of a merganser but didn’t really know what it looked like. So, when we got home I checked the Cornell U website ‘ All About Birds’. Soon as I pulled up the pictures, I thought, I’ve seen that bird. The bird has a ‘hoodie’ that it can hold raised :

or folded back :

It occurred to me that if i saw it far out on the lake, without field glasses, with the hoodie folded back, I might mistake it for a Wood Duck :

They’re both quite common in the region. And since they’re both tree cavity nesters they would occupy a similar habitat. But if they’re common in the region, what’s so exciting about that ? Nothing, it seems. It was the second bird everyone was flocking to see.

After a few more birders passed, I’d gotten the name right. The ‘Arctic’ Long Tailed Duck is what everyone wanted to see. So I pulled up it’s profile and pictures :

This is one tough little bird. It’s described as a small sea bird. Their summer nesting range is across Canada & Alaska, from the Arctic Circle north to lands end at the Arctic Ocean. And some will winter along the northern coasts, south to Delaware Bay in the east, and to Washington State on the west coast. But some of these eastern birds will simply move to open water off the coasts of Greenland, for example. For the Winter ! Crikeys mate.

And by Saturday the word had really gotten out. A small ‘anti-tank company’ of birders descended on the lake. I called them that because they were all carrying cameras the size of a small bazooka. This bird was likely heading north again from eastern coastal waters, but finding one on a small lake in W PA is so rare that it even brought out Robert Mulvihill, Ornithologist, from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. We chatted a bit & I asked, jokingly, if there was a ‘birder bat signal’ that brought all these people out. As a matter of fact there is, he said. Turns out, there are a number of ‘list serves’ that will send out an alert, by various means, to subscribers when something noteworthy is sighted. Who knew.

By Sunday it was gone. Journeying on. But the Mute Swan was back again. So, always something interesting to see out there.

Ken Yonek

3/3/19

Swans – Toughing Out the Cold

A  few weeks ago a Mute Swan and it’s ‘flock’ – 2 or 3 Canada Geese and a similar number of Mallard Ducks – moved onto about the only open stretch of water on Peters Lake. As the ice receded they stayed along the same shoreline, just spread out a bit. As the ice cover grew they retreated back into a small inlet close to the trail which circles the lake. At one point the open area was scarcely the size of a bathtub. The swan floated in it and some of the other birds stood on the ice nearby. But as the other birds joined the swan in the water the open area slowly grew to a small room size.

This morning, Wednesday, I took Frodo for a very short walk along the opposite shore where we had some protection from the trees. Looked like the swan &  some of his buddies were still there so after the walk I drove thru the neighborhood to the opposite shore. There’s no roadway around the lake.

I  drove around the parking lot to the point nearest the birds and took this shot through the car window.

It was 3F outside & I was cold enough from the walk so, OK, I wimped out. I think you can see the ice coming in on the right side and the shore is immediately on the left. So this is a pretty small patch but, without a doubt, the only open area on the lake.

I took this second shot & you can see one of it’s companions stretching it’s wings.

I think I figured out what’s going on here. Above the shore on the immediate left is an old service road dating back to when this was a water company reservoir. On the opposite side of that road (now part of the walking trail) are 3-4 small springs coming out of the ground. They flow together, and then through a old concrete culvert several feet below the road surface, before flowing into this small inlet. That spring water will be much warmer than the surrounding ice. The birds paddling and feeding is probably mixing it more thoroughly with the surrounding water, raising its temperature and keeping the water open. Their purely physical  activity is probably helping also.

It’s not exactly a warm spring spa but I’m sure that’s what is keeping the birds there. There’s water to drink and the roots etc. of plants reachable in shallow water. It certainly looks a lot more inviting than a nearby lake where dozens of Canada Geese were huddled together, perched on the ice, in the middle of a frozen lake.

We’ll see how they do when the temperature drops below zero tonight. If they can tough that out, and I think they will, they’ll be seeing much warmer temperatures over next 7-10 days. Hang in there guys.

Swans

I’ve been stalking this bird for weeks. Stalking, but not harassing. Never got close enough for that. And really, only got close enough for half decent pix last week. I now realize that I’ve been seeing a solitary swan when driving by various nearby lakes for a couple of years. Saw it, but then discounted what my eyes were seeing because ‘ swans don’t live around here’. About sums up the human condition. But when I did some research on swans after seeing a trio of migrating Tundra Swan on Peters Lake in November, I realized that the imported European Mute Swan could indeed live around here. It was imported to ‘beautify’ parks & ponds and as a non-migrator would tend to stay in place. Nature being what it is, however, enough birds ‘escaped’ from this form of captivity that there are naturalized, wild breeding populations along the East Coast and around the Great Lakes. It is described by various sources as ‘invasive but contained’.

Oh, BTW, my tentative ID of the Tundra Swans has been confirmed by some naturalist friends:

” Ken,

Guess I forgot to tell you that I put one of your Tundra Swan photos up on iNaturalist, as blurry as it was, to see if those guys were willing to confirm them as Tundra Swan and within a day a fellow from northeast PA confirmed them as Tundra Swan. That’s what I believed them to be as well given location and timing.

Tim”

 When first spotted, this solitary Mute Swan was swimming at the far end of the upper pond, probably 70 yards from my vantage point. Using my iPhone with it’s maximum 2X zoom and some enlargement, this is the best I could get:

 After looking at the pictures I realized that there was a small object & wake in front of the swan. Probably following one of the mallards common there.

 Finally, after a longer cold spell, the upper pond froze over & the swan moved to the larger, lower lake. It was weeks before it settled into a small  inlet near the walking trail and I could get the following shot :

After my experiences of the last few months, I’m starting to see the limitations of the iPhone for any kind of nature photography. I’m not trying to capture birds in flight or lions on the Serengeti Plain but it’s not realistic to expect to see wild creatures at selfie/close-up distances unless you’re at a zoo. And I’m not interested in the artistic side of photography. But, if I see something new or interesting swimming 50 yards out in the lake, I want to be able to take a photo good enough for ID purposes. 

 After researching, I’ve found various companies offering clip on lenses for the iPhone camera that will add fisheye, wide angle, macro and zoom  capabilities. But each of those lenses cost about $90. And the only one I care about, the zoom, only comes with 3X. On top of the phones 2X, that gives a total of 6X zoom. More, but not really enough. I’m seriously considering a ‘good beginners quality’ Canon, digital, point & shoot, that can give up to 40X zoom. Now, you’re talking zoom. 

If any readers have camera suggestions I’d welcome them. Keep you posted.

The Ghosts of Washington County – Part 2

Unfortunately, not all ghosts live just in our imaginations. And some come back to haunt us repeatedly. Discovered one of those ghosts along the Montour Trail again.

Between mile markers 29.5-29.0, about a half mile from the old Montour 4 mine portal, there’s a covered pavilion along the trail. Courtesy of an Eagle Scout project. It sits next to a ravine which climbs sharply to the back end of a housing plan. Many springs tumble down that hill, under the trail, under a dirt road and then onto Chartiers Creek. Ultimately this drains into the Ohio River. One of the springs seems to be coming out of the rock nearer to the bottom of the hill. It’s stream bed is quite orange. I associate that color with iron contaminated acidic mine drainage. It joins other springs which come from higher up the hill which ‘appear normal’ but from that point on the stream bed is orange all the way to Chartiers Creek.

I went back there last  week to take some pictures and to test the pH and conductivity of the orange effluent stream. This is a view from the trail of some of the streams on the hillside.  The flow on the right has a definite orange color.

I started the climb down but, unfortunately, the ‘easier way’ I thought I saw turned out to be a wet drainage way. Tried another route that turned out to be steeper than it looked & covered with wet leaves & moss. Got about 75% of the way down. At that point took a zoom close up of the orange stream bed where it seems to come out of the rock outcropping.

And then where it’s culvertized further down under the trail.

But below that point the slope ended in a 5-7′ vertical drop to the spring. Way too much adventure for a mid-70 something. Climbed back up without testing the effluent stream.

The above information was passed along to the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association and  subsequently to the Washington County Conservation District. They’re going to try to access the stream at the bottom of the hill where it’s culvertized under the dirt road.

Let me know if you’ve got some ‘finds’ to document or explore in your area.

The Ghosts of Washington County – Part #1

The southwestern PA region has a long history of mining & manufacturing activity. Some of this activity ‘died’ a long time ago & evidence of it may be obscured, forgotten, or unknown. I had a discovery experience just like that recently.

In the Fall of 2018 we’d moved to a neighborhood in Peters Twp. that was near a section of the Montour Trail that I’d never been on before. So, Frodo, our Standard Poodle, & I have since been exploring that trail. We start out at Mile Marker 30.4 next to the Peters Twp. Sanitary Authority plant on Brush Run Creek. Last week we’d walked only a short way from the parking lot & decided to take an old road/trail that left the Montour Trail & cut sharply up the hillside that lined the trail. It was steep enough & long enough to get the heart started. And it was deserted enough to let Frodo off-leash so that he could run around, explore, & do doggy stuff. A win-win for both of us. When I got tired of climbing, we took a trail across the face of the hillside on to a path & series of cutbacks down. Coming around the last cutback into a clearing saw this locked metal door on the face of the hillside.

Moving in closer realized that it was the actual portal into the Montour 4 mine.

This portal was opened in 1953 and allowed a conveyer belt to bring coal from the mine into a collector which loaded the coal into rail cars parked directly below at the Montour Trail level. Unfortunately, this portal did not have a particularly long use life.

Fortunately, some folks had the vision to see this as the starting place to develop a real regional asset which now connects all the way to Washington D.C.

Two Local Christmas Bird Counts

If you’re a birder, or curious about what birders do, or maybe just looking for an outdoor  activity and to meet some new people interested in nature, consider the following:

 

Washington, PA Bird Count, Dec.15

Contact is Tom Contreras at tcontreras@washjeff.edu

 

I am happy to announce that the Washington PA’s 45th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, 15 December, 2018.  

Field participants will meet at 7:30am in 305 Dieter-Porter Hall (W&J College) at the corner of College St. and East Maiden St. 

Field participants should be able to park in the Grant Street lot across from Swanson Hall at the corner of Grant St. and Lincoln St. or in the lot directly behind Dieter-Porter Hall (access to lot from College St.). 

It’s important that those of us doing field counts meet to discuss coverage and travel within the count circle. 

If you absolutely can’t make it in to W&J that morning, but would still like to participate in the field count, please contact me the week before the count so we can arrange proper coverage for the count circle.

 I need to know who will be helping with the field count, so please contact me by email or phone (724-223-6118) to let me know if you can help with the field count. 

If you know of anyone else who would like to participate, have them email me.

 

For those of you watching your bird feeders on the day of the count, I have attached a checklist which you can fill out and send back to me sometime before 20 January, 2018.  Remember to only record the maximum number of individuals of a particular species you’ve observed at one time—this will help to avoid double-counting of individuals.

 

Thanks to all of you for your help with this year’s count. 

Let’s hope the weather cooperates. 

To see results from previous years, go to http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/ and enter “PAWS” as the “Count Code”.  Results go all the way back to the first counts for this area in the 1970’s.

 

Also, my cell phone number is 724-413-2310 in case there are any weather-related issues on the day of the count and you want to contact me to determine the status of the count.

 

 Buffalo Creek event in Washington County, Dec.16

Buffalo Creek in Washington Co. on Dec. 16th. 

If interested in participating contact Larry Helgerman, coordinator, at bobolink1989@gmail.com or 412-508-032.