BROCKWAY – The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has placed a marker recognizing the country’s first-ever training school for conservation officers.
The marker, placed in Jefferson County at Game School and Empire Ridge roads, is about 1.5 miles from the site of the original Ross Leffler School of Conservation – the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s training school for law-enforcement officers.
The Brockway training school not only was the first of its kind dedicated to the training of Game Protectors – law-enforcement positions that today are referred to as Wildlife Conservation Officers – it would quickly become the model for similar facilities nationwide.
Addressing a crowd that gathered at a dedication ceremony at which the marker was unveiled, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the Ross Leffler School of Conservation has contributed immeasurably to the advancement of wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania, and it’s a contribution that is ongoing.
“Today we are here to memorialize the Ross Leffler School of Conservation – the first, and still the finest, Wildlife Conservation Officer training school in the country,” said Hough, who himself graduated from the training school in Brockway. “I am pleased to announce that there are 29 cadets currently enrolled in the 30th Class with plans to graduate in March 2015.”
The building that originally served as the training school at the Brockway site no longer is standing. It was built in 1915 as a hunting camp, and converted to a facility that would accommodate 25 trainees. The school opened its doors in 1936. And between the opening and 1987, when the Ross Leffler School of Conservation was moved to a wing of the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters, 19 classes and a total of 430 conservation officers completed their training at the Brockway school.
One Brockway graduate, retired Wildlife Conservation Officer Bill Bower, told the crowd that assembled about the dedication those graduates share in protecting Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources, and in turn its rich hunting and trapping heritage.
“There is no love greater among men than that which they hold for the land and all that the land contains, because it is bound up in their own happiness, that of their children and of the future generations,” Bower said.
Bower said the idea for a permanent training school grew out of a need to meet the many challenges that existed in protecting Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources as the 20th century neared.
When the Game Commission was established in 1895, many wildlife populations suffered from unregulated hunting, overharvest and illegal taking. The officers hired to enforce the laws that existed worked in constant danger. Training was necessary, and as the years progressed, the need for a permanent facility became evident.
The idea was championed by Board of Commissioners president Ross Leffler, who would serve as commissioner for nearly 30 years, and was later appointed Assistant Secretary of the Interior by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957.
Leffler’s contribution is recognized not only in the training school’s name, but also on the historical marker.
The marker is the newest of more than 2,000 located across the state, said Jean Craige Pepper Victor, of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. These markers chronicle the people, places and events that have made the Commonwealth notable, she said.
“These single threads are woven into the great tapestry which is our rich and diverse heritage,” Craige Pepper Victor said.
The Brockway training school would remain an integral part of the community until 1987, when the Ross Leffler School of Conservation was moved to the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R- 25th District) said the fact the training school no longer is in Brockway made the dedication ceremony bittersweet.
“I am pleased to see the original site of the Ross Leffler School of Conservation receive recognition with a historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission,” Scarnati stated. “However this day is bittersweet, given that the training school was moved from our community to Harrisburg. The facility was an important part of Brockway and I am extremely disappointed that it is no longer a part of our community today.”
To date, the Ross Leffler School of Conservation has produced 648 full-time Game Protectors and Wildlife Conservation Officers through 29 graduating classes at the two sites.
Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners President Robert W. Schlemmer said the marker is a fitting tribute to the innovation that spurred the creation of that original training school, which has created a lasting legacy in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
“The Ross Leffler School of Conservation, the first and finest in the nation, shall continue to graduate the most knowledgeable and superbly trained Wildlife Conservation Officers in the world, thus enabling the hunting and trapping heritage of Pennsylvania to continue for present and future generations,” Schlemmer said.