Think back to the last walk you took through a park, the last community day you attended, the last stream you visited. Do you know who owned that land? Have you wondered how that place came to be—how conservation happens?

There are many hands that go into protecting, maintaining, improving, and providing programming on our spaces. Kathy Frankel has been involved in ensuring many Western Pennsylvania spaces are well-planned, protected, and programmed since 1996.

Kathy is the regional Western Pennsylvania Recreation & Conservation Manager for the Bureau of Conservation and Natural Resources at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and she’s been the professional to whom we propose our land protection projects in need of state funding.

You’d be hard-pressed to hear Kathy sentimentally recounting the protection of any one piece of land, but her passion comes through in forging partnerships and connecting communities to accessible spaces near their homes.

“It’s rewarding to help groups come together, focus, and make a project happen with sweat equity,” Kathy said. “If communities were more aware of what they could do to augment their spaces, it would be helpful and have a really big impact.”

Kathy helps groups like ALT in identifying valuable projects, helping to form the vision for those projects, connecting projects for greater impact, and communicating best available grants and timelines. Her work is in seeking great local projects for state-wide impact, as that is what the state-level DCNR examines when seeking to best allocate funding for projects across the commonwealth.

In her time at DCNR, she’s seen a lot of positive change. Where once communities often didn’t have a say in what happened with vacant land, Kathy is happy to see that there are now mechanisms in place to enact community-inclusive planning. In 1984, when she started in Cranberry Township as the Director of Parks and Recreation, she was one of few women in leadership roles. Now she’s inspired to see that there are many more women in leading roles within the programming and parks sectors. Finally, Kathy is encouraged to see more communities engaging in long-term, conservation-based planning.

“Many decision makers in municipalities need to be educated on the opportunities for recreation and conservation in their communities,” Kathy said. “We’re seeing more groups thinking this way in early planning stages, but more need to know that green and sustainable practices – these projects are worth the investment.”

This guidance has helped ALT in growing our education efforts into educating not only budding naturalists on the flora and fauna surrounding them, but also in educating community planners on the potential for resilient green investment opportunities that already exist right in front of them.

Kathy has seen ALT grow from our very first green space, Dead Man’s Hollow, through the acquisition of many parcels now forming the still-growing Audubon Greenway, and is still advising us on best initiatives to approach in our grant applications for projects today.

“I like that ALT takes into consideration the long-term stewardship of a space—it’s one thing to acquire it, but land needs on-going care to get the most value out of that green space,” Kathy said. “ALT is really good at planning for that.”

Kathy said retirement is now within view for her, and when she reflects back on her career, she often thinks of her recently-passed mother’s words. When Kathy first started pursuing a degree in parks and recreation, her mom would tell family friends, “She’s going to be like Julie the cruise director from ‘The Love Boats.” After years of watching Kathy grow and lead in her career, her mom grew more and more respect for Kathy’s impact.

“Did you ever think that you would go this far?” Her mom asked her with pride.