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Moraine State Park celebrates 53rd birthday

Moraine State Park naturalist Megan Stephenson gives a presentation on the history of Moraine State Park on Thursday. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

MUDDY CREEK TWP — Dozens of park visitors turned out Thursday evening as Moraine State Park celebrated the 53rd anniversary of its opening with a presentation documenting the history of the land it sits on.

“I’m a big fan of the park. I’m involved in the park with a whole bunch of different things with Moraine Preservation Fund and the trail race too,” said David Murray, a frequent park visitor. “It’s nice to hear the history of the park.”

Megan Stephenson, a Moraine State Park naturalist, hosted the presentation.

Moraine State Park was named for the glacial “moraine” formations that shaped its land. While the park is officially only 53 years old, it took thousands of years of natural phenomena to shape it into what it is today.

The area on which Moraine State Park currently sits, known as Muddy Creek Valley, was formed during the last glacial period in North America, between 140,000 and 20,000 years ago, when a glacier formed a dam in area creeks and lakes. This caused deposits of gravel, sand and clay to spill over, forming the “moraines” for which the park would eventually be named.

During the 1800s, most of the natural resources left behind during the ice age were mined away by settlers. This included limestone, clay, shale and oil, with Daniel Shanor being the first to strike oil in the area.

The Western Allegheny Railroad was built to transport these materials to Pittsburgh. However, by the early 1940s, the railroad was abandoned and later removed due to both the rise of the automobile and the need for scrap metal during World War II.

It wasn’t until 1926, when Englishman Frank Preston visited the land, when the first seeds of what what would eventually become Moraine State Park were sown.

Preston had moved to the area to work at Standard Plate Glass to make lenses for aerial photography during the World War I. During a trip to the valley, he noticed the unique shape of the land and realized that it must have had a history of glacial activity dating back thousands of years.

Preston gathered some of his friends to create what would eventually become the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. This group devised what was initially known as “Moraineland,” and the first step was to buy up parcels of land around Muddy Creek Valley in order to preserve what was left of the glacial landscape.

It took more than two decades of work to make the “Moraineland” dream a reality. This involved planting thousands of trees as well as plugging hundreds of century-old oil wells to prevent the possibility of oil flowing into the newly created Lake Arthur.

“Folks thought if they didn’t plug the wells ... we’re gonna fill this lake and the water’s all going to go down into these oil wells,” Stephenson said.

The plans for “Moraineland” were originally far more ambitious. A preliminary map featured golf courses, skiing and toboggan slopes, among other attractions that were ultimately scrapped. Even the name wasn’t a certainty, with the park being known as “Muddy Creek State Park” and “Portersville Station State Park” during development.

Finally, on May 23, 1970, Moraine State Park was officially dedicated, although it had technically been open to the public for a month prior.

Today, the park is a year-round tourist destination which receives, on average, 1.2 million visitors each year.

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