Retired teacher wrote the book on Moraine State Park
March 18, 2017 12:00 AM
A new book, "Moraine State Park" by Polly Shaw, is one in the Images of Modern America series of Arcadia Publishing.
Polly Shaw of Portersville, Butler County, is the author of the new "Moraine State Park" book.
By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As beautiful as Moraine State Park can be today, it has been one messed-up plot of land.
That rolling part of what is now northwest Butler County, just north of Pittsburgh, was, as recently as 20,000 years ago, periodically scraped and flattened and flooded by massive glaciers. As the mile-thick ice melted, it left piles of sand and rocks called eskers and moraines.
After colonial settlers moved in, they cut down the trees and carved up the muddy flat stretch into farms. They mined from the hills much of the glacier-deposited gravel and clay, and also quarried limestone. Next they dug into the ground for deep and strip mines to remove bituminous coal, and then drilled it with wells for oil and gas. By the early 1900s much of the soil was barren, and the streams were polluted with petroleum waste and acid mine drainage. Even the railroad tracks were abandoned.
How this was turned into our third-largest state park (at nearly 17,000 acres) and pretty Lake Arthur (3,225 acres) is a story that’s told mostly in color photographs in the new book “Moraine State Park,” one of the Images of Modern America series published by Acadia Publishing ($22.99).
The author is Portersville’s Polly Shaw, a retired 37-year Seneca Valley elementary teacher and 20-year active volunteer at nearby co-administered McConnells Mill State Park. Nobody else wanted to do the book Arcadia sought, so she said she’d be happy to.
A year and a half later, she’s happy that she did in great part because of how cooperative the park staff and other people were about letting her comb through and use their images.
Much of her writing focuses on a guy named Frank Preston, a British-born, nature-loving industrialist who became enamored of this area’s glacial topography. In the process of preserving it, he became one of the founders of what became the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
It was his idea to dam Muddy Creek to restore much of the one-time glacial lake here. He and his forward-thinking peers worked to not only acquire land but also fertilize it and replant thousands of trees, and to get the state to take it from there. When the park opened in May 1970, the lake was named for another early fan of the place, Edmund Watts “Ned” Arthur, a Pittsburgh attorney who wrote for the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph.
Another fun fact: It took almost a full year for the lake to fill up.
Today’s park users may not realize how the lake covers the tracks of the once-vital Western Allegheny Railroad, the original U.S. Route 422, even the former coal-patch town with the now ironic name of Isle.
“I think people will enjoy finding out about things they don’t know. I certainly did,” Mrs. Shaw said, even though she grew up in Butler and has been visiting the park since the summer it opened.
Without the book, it’s hard to imagine how much reconstruction and construction the park required. That’s certainly not reflected in the photos that illustrate the final three chapters: “Natural Areas and Wildlife,” “Recreational Opportunities” and “Education, Projects, and Special Events.” That part of the book shares Moraine’s many modern-day charms, including hiking, sailboating, ice fishing, even ice boating and kite skiing.
She’ll discuss the book the night it publishes — on Monday — at a meeting of the Wampum Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Wampum Junction Station. The trail, which eventually is to run from North Dakota to Vermont, crosses the park and McConnells Mills.
Mrs. Shaw already is working on a proposal to write the book on that park next.
In the meantime, her first book will be available at the Owlet Gift Shop operated by the Moraine Preservation Fund, area booksellers and online, including at arcadiapublishing.com.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.