VARDEN—The grounds outside the Varden Conservation Area (VCA) pavilion off the Tannery Road access were alight with activity last Saturday as local nature and wildlife enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the Eighth Annual Varden Conservation Day.

Sponsored by the Friends of Varden Conservation Area, the day featured numerous natural and historical demonstrations, guided hikes, and other fun activities to raise awareness for the natural preserve maintained by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as part of Promised Land State Park.

Prominent events for the day included a silent auction, scavenger hunt, historic hike to the Varden chimney and cemetery, live animal demonstrations from the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and live fiddle music.

Also of note was a traditional homemade ice cream stand run by Sam Conklin and powered by an antique gas engine.

There was even a special appearance by Smokey the Bear and the Maplewood Fire Company to educate visitors about the importance of fire safety and wildfire prevention.

In addition to raising park awareness, the event also acts as the major fundraiser for the Friends of VCA, who work to enhance the recreational capabilities the park has to offer.

“We do this to educate people a little bit more than they normally would get when they just walk into the park and raise a few dollars … to help things out,” said Duane Swingle, a member of the Friends of VCA and one of the coordinators for the day's events.

Expanding on these ideas was fellow Friend of the VCA Dr. Amy Johnson: “It's a combination of helping the community recognize the park … and environmental education, and to let our kids know that being outside is really, kind of fun.”

To this end, children were treated to fun activities like face and rock painting, as well as a youth fishing tournament to close out the day's activities.

“It's just a really neat, old-fashioned community kind of feeling,” she said.

Swingle, Johnson and indeed numerous other attendees attested time and again that the whole operation would not have been possible were it not for the generous 400+ acre donation by Dr. Mead Shaffer.

A Varden native and current Philadelphia-based veterinarian, Shaffer said he's “obsessed with the idea of conservation and preservation.”

Since his youth, Shaffer has planted innumerable evergreen trees around the Varden area, growing his interest in the preservation of natural resources which he obtained from his grandfather.

“It's important to get some knowledge out on the environment and preservation/conservation,” he said.

He added that he is very happy to be working with the state park and hopes to foster even more youth and student involvement with the park.

Promised Land State Park Manager Brian Taylor stated the park, split into two tracks, is chock full of pleasant nature trails which facilitate year round nature hikes, animal watching, and environmental education programs for youths and adults alike.

Taylor explained that conservation “is very important because in today's world, it seems like there's less and less wild areas for the general public to use.”

He continued, “We're very fortunate Dr. Shaffer donated this land to the commonwealth to preserve this area.”

Taylor attested to the park's split significance as both an ecological wonderland and as a historical marker, demonstrated by the remnants of the old pioneer stone chimney and graveyard at the spot of the old John Shaffer House.

Varden Conservation Day and the VCA's other events are all made possible through the efforts of the Friends of Varden Conservation Area.

The Friends of VCA have monthly meetings at 1100 Mid Valley Road to discuss further advancement of the park.

The next will be held on October 17 at 6 p.m. Meetings are open to the public and those interested are encouraged to attend.

The Friends of VCA maintain a Facebook group where meeting information and other notifications are available to the public.

More information about VCA can be found online at or calling Promised Land State Park at (570) 676-3428, extension 0.