First established as the Jenning’s Nature Reserve, the Jennings Environmental Education Center provides natural resources education and interpretation for Butler County and surrounding areas. The property was purchased in 1952 as a joint effort of renowned botanist and University of Pittsburgh professor, Otto Emery Jennings, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Jennings Served as the first President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science in 1925, as well as the president of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. In total, Jennings Environmental Education center, operated by PA DCNR Bureau of State Parks, has a total of 291 acres of land, with 3 acres of relict prairie within forested land.
Jennings Environmental Education Center is home to one of the only prairie ecosystems east of the Mississippi River due to the history of glaciation in the area. The unique ecosystem of a prairie surrounded by forest land with a small creek running through creates the perfect habitat for the threatened Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which requires the prairie for food and sunlight in the summer as well as abandoned crayfish burrows for hibernation in the winter. The conservation of these snakes as well as the rare Blazing Star wildflower as well as several other endangered or threatened species that call Jennings EEC home are the driving reasons behind their management practices. To maintain this prairie ecosystem, the staff at Jennings EEC apply many different management techniques to the plants within it including prescribed burns, selective herbicide applications and cutting. Prescribed burns are one of the more effective methods of maintenance as they are ecologically and historically natural processes.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Jennings Nature Reserve was owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and operated by the Parks and Recreation Department at Slippery Rock State College. While in control of the Parks and Recreation Department, Jenning’s Nature Reserve was under the oversight of the late Dr. William “Bill” Shiner. After the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks was established, control of the site was turned over to Moraine State Park staff, who continued the many traditions created by SRSC students. Programming at Jennings has included programs about the Blazing Star Wildflower, Prairie Ecosystems, the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, backpacking, glaciation and geology, and Native American history. In addition to these programs, many events focusing on environmental education, such as the governor’s Environmental Education Day initiative, volunteer days, photography contests, and their annual Celebrate the Bloom event are held at Jennings.
Prior to being maintained as a park, the land was used for many different activities. Before European arrival, grazing by big game species such as bison and elk maintained the prairies boundaries by eating the shrubs that impose on its territory. The park also contains a section of the Venango Path, used by Native Americans to travel between Pittsburgh and Erie. This same path was used by George Washington in December of 1753 to deliver a message to the French, prior to the French and Indian War. Other uses of the land include the Foltz Schoolhouse, believed to originally be built in 1844, went through many different stages of construction, but served local families. The remaining schoolhouse, located across Route 8 from Jennings, was a 1-room structure with no running water, and served the local children until 1963. The Foltz Schoolhouse is property of Jennings Environmental Education Center and will soon be utilized for public events.
Preservation of the Jennings Environmental Education Center was possible due to efforts of the Western PA Conservancy and is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks and 3MJC: The Moraine, McConnells Mills and Jennings Commission.