Pennsylvania's state parks and lakes add to the quality of life for residents and visitors thanks in large part to volunteers who give countless hours to make sure it stays that way. This week's Hometown Hero, Clarence Dewey Forsythe, has volunteered in the Pymatuning Lake area for about 30 years.
Known as Dewey, Forsythe, 91, of Espyville, visited Pymatuning for decades when he lived in the Pittsburgh area with his late wife and children while working for Duquesne Light. He moved to Espyville “the day after I retired,” Forsythe said.
A fisherman who appreciates the lake, Forsythe became involved in the Pymatuning Lake Association, which formed in 1945 and has served off and on as president since 1992, including at present.
“The primary purpose is to preserve our habitat and improve conditions in the park and lake in particular and get the news out about what we have here in Pymatuning. That part is hard to do,” Forsythe said.
The association does several projects each year, a big one of which is putting in 125 fish habitats called "porcupine cribs,” four-feet long slatted wood structures that allow fish to be protected. The cribs are a substitute for the many stumps that existed in the lake after it was made but that eroded over time. All together, the association has placed 2,350 habitats, Forsythe said.
“We're trying to replace the habitat that was there,” he said.
Over the years, the association also has installed benches near the marina, built and improved boat ramps and parking lots, built a pavilion in Espyville, built a patio, revamped landings and walkways, bought safety equipment for a patrol boat, installed large stones to prevent erosion and more. The group is in the process of building a pavilion in the Snodgrass area of the park.
“We work very closely with DCNR (Department of Conservation & Natural Resources) at the park and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission,” he said.
The association raises the funds and pays for many of the projects while the DCNR generally does the labor.
Forsythe contributes labor as well. He has mowed a few acres of grass in the park twice a week since 2009 because the park's mowers are too large to maneuver around the pavilion area.
To raise funds, the association produces a tourism guide and sells advertising. It also has sold personalized bricks for a patio. In addition, the association holds two fishing tournaments each year.
Another event the association hosts is a free kids fishing derby the first weekend of August.
“It has grown over the years that people say it boggles their minds we can do all this for free. We get a lot accomplished,” he said of the many volunteers who work with the association and the various activities.
Forsythe said his volunteer work keeps him from fishing as much as he'd like, but it seems he'd have it no other way.
“I've been a volunteer person all my life,” he said, echoing the familiar refrain of those in the post-World War II generation. He previously served as a fire chief and volunteered with a fire department before retiring.
He said his motivation is seeing others enjoy the park, and he often spends time, as much as twice a day, down at the lake watching the groups who enjoy it on a regular basis, including a group of individuals with special needs and a group of woodworkers.
“I enjoy telling people our story about how we made an impact there,” he said.
It's a place that once served as a vacation spot for him but now is home.
“It's a different environment. The whole area is a laid back area,” he said.
The relationships formed there and the enjoyment of time spent at the lake keep him working to ensure a “decent lake for a future generation.”
To nominate a Hometown Hero, send a brief couple sentences why that person is deserving to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Hometown Hero” in the subject line.