Conservation group’s focus is future: Land Trust hosts annual fundraiser

By Geri Gibbons - For Times Leader
Nicole Santo-Yochum and her husband, Peter, of Shavertown, look over auction items for bid to benefit the North Branch Land Trust during an event Wednesday at the Westmoreland Club. -
Kelly Snyder, left, and Desire Voitek, both of King’s College, were at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday for the 19th annual North Branch Land Trust dinner auction fundraiser. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Margaret Neville, Kingston, looks over auction items to benefit the North Branch Land Trust at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday night. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The North Branch Land Trust held its annual dinner auction at the Westmoreland Club on Wednesday evening to raise money for local land conservation for future generations.

The nonprofit has helped preserve about 20,000 acres throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1993.

This year’s theme, “Nature is the Best Playground,” had special significance to director of development Barbara Romanansky.

“When I was a youngster, my family rented a cabin along the river near Tunkhannock from the 1950s to the 2000s,” she said. “I now work for the organization that has made conservation of that property a reality. How wonderful is that.”

Romanansky recalled with enthusiasm fishing and swimming near the river, getting home just in time for dinner and then going back out to look for fireflies.

“It’s been proven that children that connect with nature have better attention, less disease and better socialization,” she said.

The annual dinner also provides an opportunity for the organization to present its annual community stewardship award, this year going to Earth Conservancy, a nonprofit founded in 1992 to address the impact of past coal mining operations in Luzerne County.

Mike Dziak, executive director of Earth Conservancy, said both organizations share the same goal of open space preservation and responsible land use.

“It’s a good partnership and that doesn’t happen often,” he said.

Dziak took time to speak about the South Valley Parkway project designed to alleviate traffic on Middle Road in Hanover Township and provide easy access to Luzerne County Community College.

“It also opens up a great deal of land for development and preservation,” he said.

North Branch Land Trust’s executive director, Paul Lumia, said the nonprofit draws all of its funding from the community, with the annual dinner auction being its major fundraiser.

Lumia said the nonprofit began with a group of concerned citizens, philanthropists, who he described as “nature-minded folks.”

Twenty-five years later, he said the organization still seeks to preserve wide open spaces and to provide natural recreation areas for families.

“For example, we’ve reclaimed land near the Seven Tubs Nature Area, meaning more land for people to enjoy.”

City councilman and a member of the dinner committee, Tony Brooks, is also grateful for a preservation project in Bear Creek “just off 115,” which is a great place to take a walk or hike.

“Perfect place to take children — and dogs,” said Brooks, smiling. “My three dogs — Thacher, Zeculon, and Franklin — totally appreciate the space.”

Patrons bid on everything from original artwork and photography to outdoor gear and vacations during silent and live auctions.

Nicole Santo-Yochum and her husband, Peter, of Shavertown, look over auction items for bid to benefit the North Branch Land Trust during an event Wednesday at the Westmoreland Club.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_North-Branch-Land-Trust-2-2-.jpgNicole Santo-Yochum and her husband, Peter, of Shavertown, look over auction items for bid to benefit the North Branch Land Trust during an event Wednesday at the Westmoreland Club.

Kelly Snyder, left, and Desire Voitek, both of King’s College, were at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday for the 19th annual North Branch Land Trust dinner auction fundraiser.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_North-Branch-Land-Trust-3-1-.jpgKelly Snyder, left, and Desire Voitek, both of King’s College, were at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday for the 19th annual North Branch Land Trust dinner auction fundraiser. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Margaret Neville, Kingston, looks over auction items to benefit the North Branch Land Trust at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday night.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_North-Branch-Land-Trust-1-2-.jpgMargaret Neville, Kingston, looks over auction items to benefit the North Branch Land Trust at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday night. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader
Land Trust hosts annual fundraiser

By Geri Gibbons

For Times Leader