Cordelia Scaife May’s Colcom Foundation and WPC Partner for a Sustainable Future

When Mellon family heiress Cordelia Scaife May passed away in 2005, she left $400 million to Colcom Foundation, which she established in 1996 to support her environmental and conservation passions. Today, Colcom Foundation furthers May’s legacy by funding critical projects by organizations like the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

What Is The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy?

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving the region’s natural resources and landscapes in western Pennsylvania. Founded in 1932, the Conservancy has been actively involved in initiatives such as land conservation, watershed protection, urban forestry, and community greening. The organization works to safeguard natural lands, restore water quality, and enhance the overall environmental health of the region.

Since its inception during the Great Depression in 1932, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has evolved into a powerhouse of conservation efforts.

The organization’s mission to alleviate unemployment through public works programs while simultaneously preserving the environment laid the foundation for decades of impactful work.

One of the significant achievements of WPC is the conservation of over 255,000 acres of natural lands in Pennsylvania, underscoring its dedication to preserving the rich biodiversity and ecosystems in the region.

Colcom Foundation’s Collaboration With WPC’s Environmental Mission

In 2004, guided by their founder Cordelia Scaife May’s vision, Colcom Foundation committed to long-term support of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

The Foundation’s vital financial backing has significantly furthered WPC’s environmental programs across Pennsylvania. Through generous monetary support, Colcom Foundation has enabled the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to advance its mission of conserving and restoring lands and waterways, planting trees and gardens, and connecting communities to the natural world.

Colcom Foundation’s support of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has also greatly benefited urban greening, transforming concrete jungles into vibrant, nature-filled neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

A prominent example is the Pittsburgh Redbud Project, launched with Colcom Foundation’s funding in 2016.

The Pittsburgh Redbud Project as a Model of Urban Greening

The Pittsburgh Redbud Project focused on beautifying city landscapes by planting over 1,200 Redbud trees along Pittsburgh’s riverfront trails and parks.

More than just enhancing scenic views, the purpose of this project was to sustain pollinators like butterflies and bees. Redbud branches shelter songbirds, while their seeds provide food sources for wildlife. The trees also boost sustainability. Their cooling canopies shrink energy costs by providing natural shade and sunlight control. By absorbing stormwater, Redbuds curb flooding risks and alleviate the burden on drainage infrastructure.

The Pittsburgh Redbud Project would have undoubtedly delighted Colcom Foundation founder Cordelia Scaife May. An ardent environmentalist and nature lover, May served as the trustee of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai for many years and was passionately committed to preserving native plant species and ecosystems.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Colcom Foundation’s partnership has facilitated impactful green infrastructure projects across the city, from riverside nature preserves to neighborhood schoolyards.

The creativity and breadth of these urban greening initiatives demonstrate the power of the WPC-Colcom Foundation alliance to help Pittsburgh bloom.

Colcom Foundation Revolving Fund for Local Land Trusts

Another WPC initiative funded by Colcom is the Colcom Foundation Revolving Fund for Local Land Trusts.

Established in 2009 with $1 million in Colcom grants, this fund provides short-term loans to facilitate urgent land conservation purchases by local trusts.

It also enables WPC staff to offer crucial technical assistance to participating land trusts, empowering community-driven conservation initiatives.

By financing critical acquisitions and building organizational capacity locally, Colcom Foundation Revolving Fund is able to fund collaborative, far-reaching conservation solutions while encouraging local conservation efforts.

Longterm Tangible Impacts

The success of WPC, bolstered by Colcom Foundation’s steadfast support, extends beyond acreage and projects.

A statement bythe Western Pennsylvania Conservancy says, “The generous support of Colcom Foundation has played a significant role in advancing the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s watershed conservation, urban forestry, community greening, land conservation and other initiatives since 2004. This has resulted in major long-term and tangible impacts on the health of our region’s rivers, streams and forests, as well as making downtown Pittsburgh a more tree-shaded, colorful and inviting place for its residents, workers and visitors.

The effect of Colcom Foundation’s support goes beyond the numbers– it reverberates in the thriving landscapes, protected habitats, and the engaged communities that have benefited from WPC’s initiatives.

Almost 20 years after Cordelia Scaife May’s death, the collaboration between her Colcom Foundation and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy continues its powerful work to secure a flourishing future for the environment and communities of Western Pennsylvania for generations to come.