By JESSICA WELSHANS
In the summer of 2012, Ralph Kisberg and Mark Szybist were researching permits and discovered information on the Clarence Moore tracts of the Loyalsock State Forest.
The area has been the focus of much controversy over recent months. It encompasses more than 20,000 acres of a natural area in Loyalsock State Forest. Certain entities are eyeing the land as a potential source of natural gas and want to start drilling into the Marcellus Shale below the surface to extract the nonrenewable resource.
Szybist released a report explaining that the areas of the Clarence Moore tracts are important because they are a "wealth of ecological and recreational resources."
With help from the Responsible Drilling Alliance, public awareness was raised about the special area.
"We started the 'Keep it Wild' campaign and kicked it off with a public meeting at the Ralston Volunteer Fire Co.," said Jim Slotterback, of Cogan Station. He is the hike coordinator of Keep it Wild and co-chairman of the land conservation committee of the Responsible Drilling Alliance.
"Our group gave out information on the threat to the Rock Run watershed and what people could do about it," Slotterback said. "At about that time, we formed a sub-committee in the RDA to work on the Keep it Wild campaign."
Keep it Wild's mission statement encompasses an ideal of conservation:
"Join us in our mission to know, protect and speak up for the land we enjoy. Our goal is to explore these places and to create awareness and understanding. These forests are an irreplaceable public resource that improves our quality of life," according to the campaign's website, www.sosinpa.org.
The Keep it Wild committee works to identify natural areas of importance.
"We want to raise public awareness of the threats posed by the industrialization of our state forests, to document the impact on these areas, and to define just what a special place is," Slotterback said.
After meeting several times during the winter of 2012, the group wanted to offer others the opportunity to share in a like cause and to trade stories of these types of special places.
The committee is part of the Responsible Drilling Alliance. Slotterback emphasized: "We are the RDA."
"My wife is on the board of directors, and I belong to the working group. Jen (his wife) and I first hooked up with the RDA after she found surveying stakes in Rider Park. We started the Rider Park campaign to raise awareness and prevent drilling in the park," Slotterback said.
He said the Responsible Drilling Alliance was one of several groups that stood up and became part of the campaign.
"One of the biggest lessons we learned during the Rider Park campaign was this: No matter where you stand on gas drilling throughout the state, people do have limitations as to what they view as acceptable. Our forests and parks are a prime example of how so many groups and organizations can come together for a common purpose," he said.
The Slotterbacks began petitioning during the the Rider Park campaign. Jim said he was taken aback because more than 4,000 people signed the petition against drilling in Rider Park in 11 days.
He also said he was surprised about "how many signed the petition and stated they were 'pro-drilling,' just not here and in our state forests and parks. People aren't willing to sacrifice the uniqueness and recreational benefits of our area."
Keep it Wild sometimes holds public hikes.
"Our committee is always looking for people that will help us promote the hikes and our special places," Slotterback said.
Members of the public, and of Keep it Wild, participate in hikes in various seasons.