Beauty and Squalor

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

As the sun cast its early evening light on the mountainside east of Tyrone earlier this week, it occurred to me that we central Pennsylvanians take our natural beauty for granted.

If left to their own devices, the Appalachians’ hills and mountain slopes in these parts are covered in deciduous trees. From the valley floors, these mountainsides look like green tufts of cotton in summer and are an especially deep green when the sun is at its lowest angle just after sunrise and just before sunset. It gives the illusion that one could jump into the billows of green and come gently to rest in the treetops.

Many of us are similarly mesmerized by the peaceful streams, creeks and rivers that run alongside so many roadways in the Appalachians. Highways end up in these valleys because the waterways have carved the path of least resistance through the otherwise rugged topography.

Not all these stream sides and mountain slopes are completely tree-covered though. Large chunks of rock (usually the erosion resistant Tuscarora Sandstone on the mountains) can leave a barren, rocky landscape in some spots. In stark contrast to the forest land, these islands of boulders can be seen scattered about on Brush Mountain and other similar ridges.

This forest land and these landscapes are part of the character of Blair County. While we revere very old and historic buildings and artifacts, we often forget that these mountains are quarter billion years old. In the same way, we underestimate their value as a community and aesthetic asset. Their beauty has great value, enhancing the attractiveness of the region to business and to our young people, that so often feel they must move away to pursue professional success.
Ironically, many of those young folks move to what they believe are more attractive regions of the country. I would argue that they move because we have not always protected those landscapes and incredible natural gifts with which we have been blessed.

This past Wednesday, I did a presentation to a kids’ summer camp sponsored by the Central Blair Recreation Commission. We talked about this natural beauty and I showed them pictures of both our amazing countryside and some of our ugliest urban and rural blight. These elementary school-aged children sat attentively as we looked at these starkly contrasting images of the town in which they all lived.

Despite their age, this diverse group of children came to appreciate and understand that far too many people did not value the importance or worth of maintaining their properties or preserving these landscapes. They gave me hope, as I watched them gaze upon the pictures, often looking in disbelief at pictures of gigantic piles of trash next to houses, collapsed porches or bricks falling off buildings.

I recalled three visits I made this summer to two homes and a business that had massive accumulations of trash. Code enforcement officers were called to the properties because the neighbors couldn’t stand the site or the smell of the mess left by their inconsiderate neighbor.

I realized that the adults responsible for this squalor may have been older than my young audience, but they certainly were not wiser. In a refreshing exhibition of intermunicipal cooperation, Williamsburg Council Person Carlee Ranalli is leading a group of local government officials in an effort to address blight throughout Blair County. Readers are encouraged to contact their own municipal officials to encourage them to be part of that effort.

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