Conemaugh Valley Conservancy

Executive Director

In a post-industrial landscape, it is important to restore natural environments to healthy condition and encourage public visitation. The Conemaugh Valley Conservancy (CVC) has been promoting habitat restoration and outdoor recreation since 1994. Construction and maintenance of hiking and cycling trails provides the public with attractive opportunities to enjoy our rejuvenated environment. In addition, CVC organizes an annual triathlon as well as a four-day canoe and kayak river sojourn on the Conemaugh River, through magnificent gorges.

Outdoor recreation trails and habitat restoration are our signature activities.

In 2022, I joined CVC as Executive Director to continue good work across a broad landscape. The Conemaugh watershed includes 1,887 square miles across five counties. The basin stretches about 150 river miles from headwaters east and south of Johnstown, PA, then down-river through Blairsville and Saltsburg to where the Kiskiminetas river joins the Allegheny. The river winds through the landmark 1,650-foot deep Conemaugh Gorge.

The legacy of intense development of coal mines and steel mills left this region deeply scarred and polluted. Dedicated and wise mitigation efforts by several organizations have revitalized once-dead rivers to become healthy assets. Volunteers under CVC guidance monitor more than 250 sites where abandoned mine discharge threatens a watercourse.

See the excellent documentary, A River Reborn, created by Foundations for Pennsylvania Watersheds to learn the story of one of the great successes of environmental rehabilitation.

For more information about CVC, visit our website.

Volunteers taking chemical samples from toxic waters of an abandoned mine discharge.
Kayaker navigates the constructed white water sections of Stonycreek, a great success of habitat restoration.


Wenzel explaining how to recognize American chestnut

I began my career as a behavioral ecologist and sociobiologist. My early work included reproductive behavior, kin recognition, and nest construction in wasps (and one bee paper), with nest construction and architecture becoming a major avenue of research. With my students at Ohio State, I published also on spider webs, photic behavior in fireflies, case construction and evolution of feeding behavior in small moths, and swarming in locusts. Upon arriving at Carnegie Museum, I began to publish on forest community ecology. Throughout this time, I developed a strong and separate thread of phylogenetic research.


Pompilid spider wasp (center) and other wasps and bees

My studies of the evolution of nest design in social wasps required an understanding of taxonomy and systematics (formal nomenclature and grouping of species) and phylogenetic perspectives (the distribution and transformation of biological characters across species, genera, and higher groups.) I was one of a few leaders who formalized the use of behavioral or ecological characters in computerized phylogenetic analyses. My lab published widely on wasps, ants, beetles, moths, locusts, damselflies, and spiders, including ecological studies. We also published some influential methodological and commentary papers regarding phylogenetic methods.