Jeffersonian Democrat
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 Single Copy Price .75
   November, 2006

JEFFERSON COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT - THE FIRST 60 YEARS

 

PINE CREEK TOWNSHIP -  Bill Smith and George Miller recently met at the office of the Jefferson County Conservation District (JCCD) in Pine Creek Township to reminisce about the beginnings, and continued success, of the organization which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year.

 

Smith's recollections of formation of JCCD include meetings in the farmhouse where he still resides in the Beechwoods area. He was a young boy listening while his father, the late Donald T. Smith, talked with others about the need for conservation efforts to stem the loss of topsoil.

 

Donald Smith was among those in the 1930's and 1940's concerned about the condition of the earth in Jefferson County.  A 1934 soil erosion survey conducted by then-Pennsylvania State College showed 25% to 75% of the topsoil was gone.

 

Those observations were crucial considering that in 1940 there were 2,356 farms in Jefferson County encompassing almost half of the total acreage in croplands, woodlands and plowable pastures.

 

A number of "practices" were developed to preserve farmland including contour crop planting, tile drains, diversion and drainage terraces, ditching, and pasture improvements. Putting these practices into use was a struggle in many ways.

 

"We had to teach water to walk, not run, downhill," Miller said. He devoted his entire teaching career to vocational agriculture at Brockway Area High School where Bill was one of his students. Miller's passion for conservation remains unabated, as does Smith's, though both are now retired.

 

While some of the practices were being developed on an experimental basis on Civilian Conservation Corps Camps during the 1930's, it was Donald Smith who laid out the first strip of contour plowed crops a half-mile long in Pennsylvania.

 

"He took a lot of ridicule for that," Bill recalled. "Other farmers laughed at him." The elder Smith also installed the first conservation district pond on his Beachwood’s land.

 

When the early efforts at conservation began to prove themselves, farmers changed their minds and embraced the practices. Skepticism about the language regarding control of land in legislation written to establish conservation districts held back interest in forming county districts until the law was changed in 1945.

 

Jefferson County was among the leaders in forming a conservation district. "It was a matter of the mail. Our application was received in Harrisburg and we were the third district," Miller said. That was March of 1946.

 

Pioneer directors of the newly formed Jefferson County Soil and Conservation District (JCSCD) began a tradition of dedication as volunteers which continues today, each assuming an active role in aiding efforts of the organization. Miller said of the directors, "You believe in what you're doing."

 

Recalling the early meetings of the fledgling district, Miller said, "The big thing was how the agencies worked together, we had great attendance." Those agencies who reported at JCSCD meetings were the Fish Commission, Game Commission, Bureau of Forestry, Soil Conservation Service, Farmers Home Administration, Agriculture Stabilization Conservation Program, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Vocational Agriculture, and Agriculture Extension.

 

Today, reports heard at JCCD meetings still reflect that same multi-agency, multi-faceted approach laid out at its founding.

 

Donald Smith became the second President of the State Association of Soil Conservation District Directors and held the post for three years. Miller was elected to that office in 1974 and held other administrative positions as well.

 

Bill, who holds a Keystone Farmers degree, followed in his father's footsteps, serving the Jefferson County district as a director for many years.

 

In 1963, then-directors Ross Reitz and Mervin Mowrey approached Miller asking him to become the first Executive Secretary/Treasurer for JCSCD. While continuing teaching, Miller accepted the part-time position which paid Two Dollars per hour and operated the office from his Brockway home.

 

Miller's hiring was a first among all districts in the state. He was followed at the county level by Roby Grose who resides in Big Run and also served as the first Executive Secretary for the PA Association of Conservation Districts. Deb Wilson succeeded Grose.

 

Local director Porter Duvall is the current Treasurer at the State level.

 

As the two men talked, a host of memories came forth about reports at meetings of the miles of contour fields, cropland and diversion terraces, sod waterways, and tile drainage laid. Stories of blasting ditches with rows of dynamite sticks were interspersed with moments of laughter.

 

Looking through the array of pictures from the JCCD archives, both men readily spoke names of those who helped develop plan books for farms, organized annual field days, plowing contests, and other activities either as part of their professions or as directors.

 

The conservation legacy laid out six decades ago continues today with JCCD's involvement in such activities as streambank stabilization, nutrient management, abandoned mine reclamation, sustainable agriculture and many others. An anniversary banquet was held in late October at a fitting venue - the Beachwood’s Golf Course not far from the Smith farm.

In 2006, William Smith and George Miller
reminisced about how the District was formed.

This article was written by Laura Lynn Yohe on November 20, 2006 and was published in the "Jeffersonian Democrat” newspaper.

Donald T. Smith realized the need for
conservation efforts.
Farming in the 1940's
 

By Laura Lynn Yohe

 

 

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