RALSTON - Hundreds of people, both young and old, turned out in support of preserving Mother Nature - even as she rained upon them.
While inclement weather may have stopped some from hiking in the area comprising Rock Run and Old Loggers Path, some 200 people filled the Ralston Fire Co. Saturday afternoon to hear from experts and concerned citizens why gas drilling should not be done there.
"As most Pennsylvanians know by now, the infrastructure needed for natural gas development is sprawling," said Morgan Myers, communications and outreach director for Responsible Drilling Alliance. "Have you seen the mass industrialization of the Bull Run area in Pine Creek? If you want to see Anadarko Petroleum's vision of the future for Sullivan Mountain, take a drive up Bull Run Road."
While rain kept the audience away from the area they want to preserve, about 200 people packed into the Ralston Fire Co. building Saturday afternoon to hold a “Keep it Wild” event to raise awareness about the possibilities of gas drilling in the Rock Run watershed of the Loyalsock State Forest.
Jim Dunn, Armstrong Township supervisor, talked about the area as a special place.
"A special place helps to define us as individuals," Dunn said. "The wilds of Pennsylvania represent who we are."
While most who spoke or listened were concerned about the Rock Run area, one speaker in particular who talked on a larger scale was Kevin Heatley, a restoration ecologist.
The facts he brought with him were thrown in the air, as he instead also spoke about places that are meaningful to others.
"The concept of sacred places, I get it," Heatley said. "I really do. Every place is sacred."
He talked about not just saving that area, but all areas that are meaningful to people. His job takes him to different ecological areas that people want to restore, but he said that 90 percent of it cannot be fixed.
After much of the area trees were cut down for the lumber industry, it took 100 years to have the forest look the way it does now. If the gas industry drills in the area, it will take at least 50 years for the trees to start growing again and another 100 years to match it now, he said.
Mark Szybist, a staff attorney for PennFuture in Wilkes-Barre, explained why the state forest could be in danger.
While the 25,000 acres in Lycoming County that they were concerned about are owned by the commonwealth, the oil and gas beneath is owned by Anadarko. In normal cases, those who own what is beneath can disrupt what is above to extract from the ground.
Yet for almost 19,000 acres, that does not apply because the language in the deed only allowed the subsurface owners 50 years to use those rights, which expired in 1983.
"The state has exclusive rights to keep Anadarko out if it chooses to," Szybist said. "(But the gas industry already in the county) wouldn't be there if the commonwealth didn't allow them."
For some of the speakers, it was a chance to call their audience to action.
"We have to stand up and say 'no,' " said Ralph Kisberg, president and one of the founding members of the alliance. "Not just us. This is a wonderful turnout. We need to get thousands."
He urged them to write letters to the government and share the message with people they know to raise more awareness.