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Donation to aid in development of trail

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry The Pennsylvania Firefly Festival (PAFF) presents a check for $1,000 to Penn Soil RC&D to support a storywalk trail at Chapman State Park. Pictured (from left) are: Chapman State Park Environmental Education Specialist Jen Moore, Penn Soil RC&D Executive Director Wes Ramsey, PAFF Intern Caitlin Ball, PAFF Board Member Ken Butler, and PAFF President Jeff Calta.

Synchronous fireflies are helping to shine some light on environmental causes.

On Thursday, Ken Butler, Jeff Calta, and Caitlin Ball of the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival, Inc. (PAFF) presented a check for $1,000 to West Ramsey of Penn Soil RC&D to help develop a Storywalk Trail at Chapman State Park.

Most of the dollars raised during the annual Firefly Festival in Kellettville, Forest County, go back into the festival. When the 501(c)(3) PAFF has extra money, it feeds back into the environmental community.

Most organizers want their festival to continue to grow.

The Firefly Festival is different.

Too many visitors with too many lights is hard on the fireflies and their delicate environment.

When the synchronous fireflies were first discovered in Forest County, Ken and Peggy Butler and others went about figuring out how to encourage people to see the phenomenon. A similar festival in Tennessee draws some 10,000 visitors per year during the two weeks when the fireflies are mating.

The first Pennsylvania festival drew 300 visitors. The event grew by about 100 for four years before topping out at 1,100 – in one night – in 2017.

That number was unsustainable.

Calta said there were times that he was surrounded by multitudes of fireflies as he prepared to give a presentation, only for the lights to go out as hundreds of people, using flashlights to guide their way, approached.

“We learned that less might be better,” Butler said.

The festival has been cut to two nights, with a strict limit on attendance.

“We can have 50 people per night,” he said.

This year, the festival will be held on June 25 and 26.

The visitors pay a fee of $30. That amount helps ensure that visitors are serious about the fireflies and it helps perpetuate the festival.

There is also a Glow-n-Know overnight experience at Kellettville, Ohiopyle, and Camp Lutherland. “Up to 15 people can camp – do the experience,” Butler said.

“When you’re there with people who have never seen synchronous fireflies and people who have never seen fireflies, that is an awesome moment.”

As a 501(c)(3), PAFF isn’t making profits. So, as it brings in more than it spends, the board is giving away dollars to causes of a similar vein.

“We have had a conservation and environmental science mission since 2012,” Butler said. “This is the first year that we’ve been granting funds. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to share a blessing.”

“We’re funding other conservation and environmental science grounds,” he said. “Penn Soil is the first to receive a check.”

The proposed Storywalk Trail would cover about four-tenths of a mile near Adams Run on the north side of the lake, according to Chapman State Park Environmental Education Specialist Jen Moore. “It’s water-conservation related.”

It will also include maple syrup production information — Moore tapped several maple trees in the area.

The trail would include numerous signs with information carrying the story — every 80 paces or so, she said. A geocache would be located near the end of the story.

“We want people to learn more about water quality, and take better care of the environment,” Ramsey said.

He estimated the full cost of the project at $15,000. “We’re applying for grants and funding.”

In addition to the PAFF dollars, the Storywalk Trail has received $2,000 from the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds and $250 from Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited, has pending applications through at least five other granting organizations, and “the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is going to provide a lot of in-kind services,” Ramsey said.

For now, PAFF is giving out $5,000 and accepting applications of up to $1,000.

“We hope to be able to do this every year,” Butler said.

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