By Tom Shakely, July 2013
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of conservation. I’ve been fascinated by the idea that there are certain things we can preserve through time, keeping safe from change, passing along from generation to generation—and yet keep them as living parts of our lives, rather than mere artifacts. In families, heirlooms serve this role. They’re not untouchable things kept behind museum glass. They’re objects that acquire new significance with each passing year. A grandfather’s gun or war uniform, fine china, or a simple photo album.
Entire communities have their own heirlooms, so to speak. They conserve certain things as a benefit for all, and for the future. Nationally we do this with places like Yosemite or Yellowstone. In Central Pennsylvania, the people of the Nittany Valley have done it for nearly a century now with Mount Nittany. The Mountain, owned and maintained by the people through voluntary association, is a “public good, privately owned,” as The Mount Nittany Conservancy thinks of it.
It’s Central Pennsylvania’s most famous mountain, and a symbol of Penn State University and the Nittany Valley. Yet the story of Mount Nittany’s conservation hasn’t really been told except in bits and pieces. I wanted to tell that story, which is why I wrote “Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism.”
“Conserving Mount Nittany,” published by The Nittany Valley Society and available in paperback as well as on Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, tells the story of the conservation of the mountain through original research and conversation with Dr. Ben Novak, the founder of the Mount Nittany Conservancy. It’s an easy, invigorating read at 180 pages—perfect for a slow summer afternoon. While the book is available now, I’m treating summer as a sort of “soft launch” period, meaning I won’t be promoting the book heavily or doing any speaking engagements until autumn—but it’s yours to enjoy now if you’re ready.
In writing and assembling the book, I purposely sought to craft a comfortable, conversational narrative tone. It’s my hope that after reading it, you’ll be able to put it down feeling like we’ve just sat together reminiscing and reflecting over a lager at The Tavern, or maybe a coffee at The Cheese Shop. I didn’t want this to be a boring, distant history, but instead a lively and human one.
Roger L. Williams, Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association, praises “Conserving Mount Nittany” as a “meta-story of pride, determination, and action born of love … to preserve the largest natural physical symbol of our alma mater.”
The story of Mount Nittany, as I seek to convey in the book, is that of a remarkable and dynamic sort of environmentalism—because its story is just as much a story of the people of the Nittany Valley as it is any dry effort to preserve some land tract. Mount Nittany provides a chance for anyone who hikes her or simply admires her to learn a bit about themselves. As Terry Dunkle has put it so well, it’s chance to stop and listen to the “whisperings of the heart” that can get drowned out in the noise of everyday life. It’s a chance to recover oneself amidst an evergreen nature.
We are part of Mount Nittany’s continuing story, in other words, which is why I’d like to hear a story of your own about the Mountain. The first ten people to offer a reflection or share an experience of Mount Nittany in the comments will get a complimentary copy of “Conserving Mount Nittany” in their format of choice. Share a great short story, and let me know what sort of copy you’d like.
It was a really very fun book to assemble. It’s gratifying to see it in print, and I hope it can be a worthwhile and exciting guidebook for Penn Staters everywhere and especially the special people of the Nittany Valley, who every morning get to wake, live, and love in Mount Nittany’s gentle shadow.