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Foundation For Sustainable Forests Loving The Land: Craig & Monica Schwegman Tell Their Story From Erie County

By Bennett Gould, Foundation for Sustainable Forests

This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 Foundation for Sustainable Forests newsletter--

Craig and Monica Schwegman’s love of forests began by chance on a Sunday drive in 2013. The couple departed from their downtown Erie home, with its postage stamp yard and no trees of its own, to explore the region and take in the sights.

As they went along, Craig was leafing through a House to Home real estate book when a listing for “Waterfront in Waterford” made him chuckle. He and Monica agreed; other than Lake LeBeouf, there surely wasn’t any waterfront to speak of in Waterford.

But, curiosity got the better of them. Craig called the listing agent, who confirmed the property is indeed waterfront and gave an address. Rerouting their driving tour to the property, Craig and Monica were left scratching their heads.

When they arrived, there was no house to be found, just a driveway into the woods. Craig called the agent back. “Yep, it's there. Just drive on in. I’ll meet you in 20 minutes.” was the realtor’s reply.

Craig protested – this was just a Sunday drive with no intent of stirring up a realtor, let alone thinking of buying property. Undeterred, the realtor was on his way.

Two hours later, Craig and Monica got back into their car. They sat in silence for many minutes, both having the same thoughts, but hesitant to admit what was on their minds. Craig broke the quiet with “Well, Monica, are we tearing down the house or gutting it?”

The pair had stumbled into a twenty-acre parcel, divided down the middle by LeBeouf Creek. On one side of the creek are lowlands with springs, sinks, and a vernal pool within a stand of red maple, sugar maple, and hickory. On the other side, the ground dries out and the home is nestled within a grove of hemlocks.

Adjacent to the north are nearly 2,000 acres comprising State Game Lands #109. To the east, Benson Run, a Class A Wild Trout Stream, empties into LeBeouf Creek where it creates a choice fishing hole.

In the property’s microcosm of woods and water, wildlife abounds from turkey to bear to songbirds. The house had fallen into disrepair, but was alluring as a renovation project. The Schwegmans couldn’t resist and closed on the property as fast as they could.

Prior to Craig and Monica, the Erie County property had been owned by the late Jean Stull Cunningham, an accomplished and widely-published ornithologist, founder of the Presque Isle Nature Club (since renamed the Presque Isle Audubon Society), and champion for Presque Isle State Park.

In 1973, Jean and her husband James built the LeBeouf Creek house with an ahead-of-its-time design incorporating large windows, porches, decks, and skylights, allowing the outside world to flow into the living space.

Wanting to ensure protection of her stretch of LeBeouf Creek in perpetuity, Jean partnered with French Creek Valley Conservancy (FCVC) in 2001 to establish a conservation easement for the property.

As new owners of twenty acres of forest, the Schwegmans realized they had a lot to learn. They started by examining a notebook left in the house by Jean that cataloged all species of flora and fauna she had found on the property.

While familiarizing themselves with the surrounding wildlife, Craig andMonica met with FCVC to learn about the property’s conservation easement and how Jean’s conservation goals might align with their own.

Monica took the lead on renovating the house with her own Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired touches, and Craig turned his interest to the forest.

He scheduled a consultation with Tom Erdman, the DCNR Service Forester for Erie County. (Tom was a valued FSF member who recently passed away this spring. You can read a remembrance of Tom from the newsletter.)

Tom developed a forest management plan for the property and Craig and Monica began to make positive changes by removing invasive plants, converting a small pasture back to woodland, and building a network of walking trails throughout the woods.

Recognizing the Schwegmans’ enthusiasm and curiosity for forest management, Tom encouraged them to connect with the forest landowner community in northwest PA and they soon learned of the Foundation for Sustainable Forests at an event.

Craig and Monica quickly became FSF members and attended one of the first Loving the Land Through Working Forests conferences.

Their involvement has grown exponentially since and, in 2016, Craig joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Craig has been instrumental in helping the organization to grow, not just in conserved acreage, but also in membership engagement and community presence.

Along the way, the Schwegmans have worked with numerous organizations to learn more about sustainable forestry and implement projects to improve the health of their woodlands. Most importantly, Craig and Monica are passing along what they have learned to others.

At the urging of the late Jim Finley, fellow FSF board member and founder of the Center for Private Forests at Penn State, Craig and Monica both enrolled in the Pennsylvania Forest Stewards Volunteer Program.

This program trains participants in a host of topics – including resource management, forest ecology, biodiversity, and much more – such that they may become ambassadors of forest stewardship for others.

In addition to his involvement with FSF, Craig now serves on the steering committee for the Pennsylvania Forest Stewards program and the board of the Center for Private Forests, helping to provide resources for those who care for our region’s forests.

Monica educates others through her art, which she creates in her studio in their LeBeouf Creek home. Monica will be quick to point out, however, that the studio isn’t just a room, but the whole ensemble of the property from trees to stream, soil to songbirds.

Why do Craig and Monica devote so much time to caring for their forest and helping others do the same?

“It's simple,” says Craig, “we want people 50 years from now to say ‘thankfully the Schwegmans owned that property because it is so healthy today.’”

Monica chimed in, “and we want our baby granddaughter to enjoy the trees we’ve planted when she and the trees are both grown up.”

Special thanks to the Schwegmans for sharing their story.

Would you like to share your story? If so, we would love to listen! Please contact Bennett Gould: or (814) 694-5830.

Upcoming Events

-- August 9: Erie Gives Event

-- August 29-30: Crawford Gives Event 

-- September 16: Friends Of The Foundation Dinner, Crawford County

-- October 1: Jim Finley Stewardship Day, Moxie Woods, Mercer County

-- October 2: Walk In Penn’s Woods

-- October 15: Presentation Hosted By Cook Forest Conservancy

For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Foundation For Sustainable Forests website. Click Here to sign up for updates (top of page).  Click Here to support their work.

(Reprinted from the Summer 2022 Foundation for Sustainable Forests newsletter.   Click Here to sign up for updates (top of page).)

Related Article:

-- In Memoriam: Tom Erdman: A Life In Penn’s Woods

[Posted: August 1, 2022]


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