Students create nature guide for McDowell Trail

The Richard E. McDowell trail

Two Pitt-Bradford environmental studies majors have created a nature guide to identify and describe selected trees found along the Richard E. McDowell Community Trail, which is located adjacent to the university.          

Erin Baxter of Warren and Lisa Moeke of Bradford worked with Dr. Dessie Severson, retired professor of biology, to research and compile the information, which they then developed into a nature guide.

Included in the brochure are the names of 23 trees located along the trail and descriptions and facts about each one. For example, the quaking aspen has leaves that “tremble” even in a slight breeze. The tree provides food for beaver, deer and other mammals. The wild black cherry tree is easily identifiable by the large blackish bark flakes that appear on is mature trunk. Also in the brochure is a map, pinpointing the location of each tree along the trail.           

The 1.4 mile-long trail runs along the West Branch of Tunungwant Creek, beginning across from the Kessel Athletic Complex on Campus Drive and ending at Clarks Lane.           

Moeke said the three month-long project focused on trees native to the region. Their work was done as a directed study for their environmental studies major under the aegis of the Allegheny Institute of Natural History at Pitt-Bradford. 
            “We walked the trail to see what species existed,” she said. “We picked out trees that were good, hearty specimens.”  They then developed a guide that would provide designated stops all along the trail. For ease of use, they chose to use common names on the trees, but the guide also provides the scientific species names.       
            Officials from the Tuna Valley Trail Association assisted with the project and volunteered to post an enlarged map on the trailhead kiosk and to provide brochures.
           “This is exactly the thing we would like to see happen with all of the Tuna Valley Trails in the community,” said Rick Esch, president of the Trail Association.           

Tackling such a task fueled even more environmental passion for the duo, Moeke said. 

Baxter added, “I wanted to do something beneficial for the community that I could be remembered for. I am very interested in trees, as they are so important to our earth."   
            Moeke said she not only wanted to help the community but also educate the public. “We have both always been passionate about the environment,” she said. “It is our hope that this project sparks that passion in others.” 
            Both students expressed appreciation to Esch for reproducing the guide, to Pitt-Bradford facilities management personnel for ordering and installing the identification plaques, and to Bernie Picklo, academic technology integrator, for developing the trail map used in the guide.
            Brochures are available at the McDowell Community trailhead kiosk near the parking area on Campus Drive, as well as Allegheny National Forest Vacation Bureau kiosks located throughout the region. It will also soon be viewable online at