County parks and recreation director receives Westmoreland Conservation District’s Houston Award
Malcolm Sias began his college career studying forestry, so it should come as no surprise that his efforts to conserve and promote Westmoreland County’s green areas have been successful.
It is part of why Sias was chosen by the Westmoreland Conservation District as its 2018 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award recipient.
“It’s an honor to receive any award named after Roy Houston,” said Sias, who has worked in parks and recreation for 40 years. “As chairman, he took the conservation district from a very small, 3- or 4-person operation to what it is today.”
It was in the late 1980s when Sias first got interested in building trails and, between his professional tenure with the Westmoreland County Bureau of Parks and Recreation and his volunteer service to the Regional Trail Corporation, he has since helped to create 43 miles of walking and biking corridors throughout the county.
The district has been a trail partner ever since.
“When Malcolm first started talking about trails, they were a relatively new idea and there were only one or two small ones in all of Westmoreland County,” said Greg Phillips, district manager and CEO of the Westmoreland Conservation District. “Yet, he was so intensely passionate about them that it didn’t take long before he convinced me of their conservation potential, especially as stream-side buffers to protect water quality, since many of the trail routes were going to parallel the path of streams.”
Sias said the large amount of trail work in the county likely wouldn’t be possible without conservation district employees.
“I called Greg when we began working on trail projects in the county,” Sias said. “We were trying to get them done without adding staff, and I knew he had people who could really help us.”
In fact, Sias and the district have partnered on each of the five major trails built in the county. A recent partnership involved a section of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail in Murrysville where the slopes were especially steep and badly eroding. The partners successfully created a solid base for the trail in this challenging spot and, at the same time, significantly reduced the amount of sediment getting into Turtle Creek.
As parks and recreation director, Sias has responsibility for stewarding upwards of 4,000 county-owned acres of parkland, about 340 of which were added during his tenure.
In the mid-1990s, he was central to an effort that added an entirely new park to the county system: the Sewickley Creek Wetlands . The 26-acre park near New Stanton is a place to observe birds and wildflowers. It also is a textbook example of conservation in action, continuously managing stormwater, filtering pollutants from the water, and helping prevent flooding downstream.
Sias worked with the WCD’s forester and others to develop a management plan for the park’s second-growth timber and unique plant species, stewardship practices that have extended to wooded portions of historic Hanna’s Town and Ann Rudd Saxman Nature Park.
For more than three decades, Sias and his staff have also served as partners in the WCD’s annual Envirothon, a competition that has helped some 2,400 high school students develop an appreciation for the natural world.
“The Westmoreland Conservation District is a pleasure to work with,” Sias said. “They’re giving me this award for working with them, but when I need help, I call them, and when they need help, they call me.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.