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Paradise Preserved: Powdermill at 50

Powdermill’s soon-to-be-expanded Florence Lockhart Nimick Nature Center.











Powdermill Nature Reserve Headquarters, 1965.








Fifty years ago, General and Mrs. Richard K. Mellon and Mr. and Mrs. Alan M. Scaife presented Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh 1,160 acres of land near Ligonier, Pa., to use as a natural science field station for its Museum of Natural History. Dubbed Powdermill Natural Reserve, the picture-perfect spot was teeming with rich woodlands, streams, open fields, ponds, thickets, and plenty of wildlife.

The creation and preservation of such a place was the dream of Dr. M. Graham Netting, the former assistant director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, who in 1948 outlined his vision in a written plan that targeted the Ligonier Valley as the ideal spot for a nature reserve. And in 1956, through the generous support of the Mellon and Scaife families, his dream became a reality.
Since that time, Powdermill has more than fulfilled its original charter. Its staff have recorded great annual changes in weather conditions and bird and mammal life, and its expanded 2,200 acres serve as a refuge for countless plants and animals, many of which are becoming rare in our region as their habitats are destroyed. What’s more, studies have found that Powdermill Run, the mountain spring stream that traverses the property, is one of the few unpolluted streams left in the region for ongoing studies of aquatic life.

“ We host a number of visiting researchers each year, many of whom think this place is a little bit of paradise,” says David A. Smith, director of Powdermill. “And you know what? They’re right. In addition to its unspoiled beauty, Powdermill provides increasingly rare opportunities for the study of the natural ebb and flow of nature—including the migration patterns of birds and the general biodiversity of the living land. It’s a natural scientist’s paradise, not to mention an incredible resource for all of us.”

Powdermill is also home to the Florence Lockhart Nimick Nature Center, constructed in 1983 (and expanded in 1993) in memory of the late wife of Thomas H. Nimick Jr., a longtime friend of Dr. Netting and Powdermill. The Center hosts children and adults for free nature programs every Sunday from January through October, as well as weeklong summer camps for kids and school field trips throughout the year. And plans are now under way to make it the centerpiece of “the nature center of the future.”

In December 2005, the Richard King Mellon Foundation awarded a $3-million grant in support of the Powdermill Sustainable Facilities Development Project—a giant first step in Powdermill’s first-ever capital campaign. The gift from the Foundation includes a challenge component totaling $1 million: for every dollar raised for the expansion and renovation project, the Foundation will match it with $2, for up to an additional $1 million.

“ We’re so pleased to be able to participate in the expansion and renovation of Powdermill Nature Reserve,” says Seward Prosser Mellon, president of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “The upgraded facility will use environmentally friendly, sustainable technologies that, in turn, will attract an increasing number of visitors, particularly those who wish to see and learn about green design.”

Smith adds that to complement the expanded facilities, his staff is planning new educational
programming that focuses on sustainable and green design for landowners and contractors,
municipal and township personnel, political leaders, and homeowners.

“ Our goal is to be an even more invaluable resource,” he says, “to Carnegie Museums, the region, and the scientific community.”

Fundraising note: At Powdermill’s ninth annual Garden Themes & Birdhouse Dreams Auction, to be held on Friday, May 26, a beautiful, one-of-a-kind needlepoint rug—created by 18 volunteers and valued at $15,000 —will be raffled off in support of Powdermill’s Avian Research Center. Raffle tickets are $100 and can be purchased online at or by calling 724.593.6105.

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