James W. Johnson Sr. is the driving force behind a conservation education program that benefits thousands of young people in Pennsylvania. Scouting troops and church youth groups have primarily utilized his efforts.
In 1994, Johnson worked with several key programs. He created the Kinzua Bridge Historic Trail in 1982. The only one of its kind in the area, the Kinzua Trail exposes visitors not only to a nature trail but to the history of the area. The railroad bridge, which is part of the trail, stands 301 feet over the valley and was the highest in the world when it was built in 1882. The trail requires that each visitor provide four hours of public service at the Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County and conduct four additional hours of environmental education. In the past year, more than 530 young people contributed in excess of 2,100 hours of public service to the park. They also conducted an equal number of hours in environmental classes.
Johnson also established Chestnuts Unlimited. Through this program, youth have planted a grove of chestnut trees at Kinzua Dam. Johnson obtained donated trees from the conservation district as well as the tree shelters for a special tree planting in a restricted area.
Through the Alternative Education Program, Johnson worked with nine alternative education students. These young people were from various local high schools, and they came together to accomplish a myriad of projects and the Kinzua Dam. The group completed riverbank stabilization projects, tree planting, landscaping, building split rail fences and several other maintenance projects.
The Spring Conservation Camporee brought 300 Scouts from Pennsylvania and New York to the Kinzua Bridge State Park. The Scouts contributed more than 1,000 hours of conservation service and education in the single day event. Their project consisted of special nursery planting, cleaning up the park, building bluebird boxes and planting crabapple trees for wildlife enhancement.
There have been over 56,000 hours in community service projects and conservation education classes accumulated since 1982 in the Environmental Youth Program resulting in an economic benefit to the Kinzua Bridge State Park, the Allegheny National Forest, US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Bradford. In 1982, there were 76 participants in Johnson’s conservation programs; however, by 2002 there were 1,000. To date, over 10,000 people have participated. This is a 15- fold increase, and it attests to the success of the program in a quantifiable way.
Johnson personally funds a major portion on his conservation projects and education programs. Because of his service, he was one of the recipients of the 1995 President’s Service Award, and in 2002 he was one of the National Arbor Day Award honorees. He was honored with the Lawrence Enersen Award for outstanding tree planting and conservation work at the community level.