A Father-Daughter Legacy for Local Conservation

Making a Difference For Future Generations

A Father-Daughter Legacy for Local Conservation

Summer finds Mario Spagnoletti, 86, fly-fishing the Little Lehigh any chance he can get.

The longstanding Wildands Conservancy volunteer, active member of the Whitehall Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) and lover of moments spent marveling at brown trout says, “I remember being told that some trout are too valuable to be caught only once.”

Mario, the self-taught invasive species expert and stream restoration advocate to boot, has already well-cast a legacy in his time.

Thousands of plants have taken root through his role in countless stream restoration projects. He continues to feed and care for birds at the Whitehall Parkway observation station and elsewhere throughout the township. And many, many middle school students have benefited from his know-how during the Lehigh County Envirothon, hosted at Wildlands’ Pool Wildlife Sanctuary.

But most notable, perhaps, is Mario’s daughter. Longtime donor and Legacy Society (planned giving) member Karen Poshefko, 60, who remarks that dirt and earth smells so well-permeated her childhood that she today is a passionate conservationist in her own right, one who cares deeply about local land preservation and water quality.

“From the first feeling of warmth to the first frost, it was mushrooms, wild berries and dandelion. All my uncles in the neighborhood would come to clean this stuff. These happenings were really a big deal that drove the culture in our house,” says Karen.

Her father’s circles exposed her early on to the thinking that gave rise to conservation in our region. Mario was a high school and target-shooting friend of Robert “Bob” Rodale, the local champion for organic farming and past chairman and chief of Rodale Press who was vital to one of Wildlands’ first land acquisitions, South Mountain Preserve. Plus he was a student of recognized educator, outdoor columnist and conservationist Charlie H. Nehf, who preserved more than 23,000 acres of natural lands in partnership with Wildlands and like-minded organizations.

Karen notes that family picnics at Cedar Beach and Jordan Park were the norm, often with toes taking to the water and eyes setting out in search of minnows.

Karen Poshefko and father, Mario Spagnoletti

Karen Poshefko and father, Mario Spagnoletti

Other influences include the work and bounty of a backyard garden, plus relatives who came up through the Great Depression and nurtured an environmental ethic long before it was fashionable.

Karen says, “I remember my uncle always cutting his napkin in half. And it always being said, ‘Save. Save. Respect nature. Respect resources.’”

“Talk of the environment was regular conversation in our house,” says Mario.

And the father-daughter duo is grateful that this discussion continues and ever-expands through the work of Wildlands.

“I was called a tree hugger – and worse – but I don’t care. Nobody is going to change my mind about the planet,” says Mario. “Things are going to happen. But we have to keep driving home the environmental aspect. Like the acid mine drainage. Mining was part of people’s livelihood. They didn’t know the impact. And the Lehigh used to be coal black! But it takes organizations like Wildlands to keep working and having those conversations.”

Mario remains dedicated in all regards, including efforts with the Little Lehigh and Hokendaqua chapters of Trout Unlimited. In 2012, Wildlands honored his conservation contributions and spirited volunteerism with a Friend of the Lehigh River Award.

Karen is an active land preservationist, especially for her beloved backdrop of South Mountain. She’s also involved in the Little Lehigh Watershed Coalition and a former member of the Emmaus Shade Tree Commission.

“I don’t have long to go, but people like Karen and kids like those involved in programs like Envirothon, they’ll keep at it,” says Mario.