The mission of the Presque Isle Partnership is to enhance the Presque Isle visitors' experience by developing, funding and implementing projects and programs on the Park, while protecting the natural environment.
By Eugene Ware June 2018
The Presque Isle Partnership was formed in 1994 as a non-profit organization designed and organized to complete and fund needed projects on Presque Isle State Park that DCNR and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were unable to carry out. It was the first private/public cooperative partnership arrangement with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
However, the idea for this partnership began in 1989 and continued through 1993. The whole concept became a glimmer in the eyes of Don Guerrein, a daily visitor to the park, and a few other regulars. In 1990 they all began talking about the needed programs, physical and environmental changes and additions that might be needed on the park. It was in 1991 that Don and the group first met with Harry Leslie, Park Manager at the time, and discussed forming a support group to help improve the park.
At almost the same time, a group of former lifeguards including Bob North, Bill Holter, Jon Myrick and Thomas Agresti plus some other non-lifeguard friends organized a walk called “March for Parks” in 1992. It raised $13,000 that was used to install the Beach Volleyball Courts at Beach 6.
This group of lifeguards and Harry Leslie realized that the park did require independent fundraising events to help it obtain the much-needed revenues for the improvements and projects that the park found necessary. It did not take long for the lifeguards to expand their efforts and recruit new volunteers and Discover Presque Isle was born. In 1993, the first DPI was held as a one-day event.
A few of the volunteers working with the lifeguards on this first Discover Presque Isle were part of the group that had approached Harry Leslie along with Don Guerrein. Soon the idea of a private non-profit seemed to make perfect sense to all involved. Harry Leslie contacted the DCNR officials in Harrisburg with the concept. After much thought, it was agreed that a new organization would be formed with the blessing of the Commonwealth.
During the next nine months and into 1994, the Presque Isle Partnership was established, and a board of directors was created. Don Guerrein was appointed Executive Director. Monthly meetings were held at the Stull Center, and Don used a small room there as his office.
At the same time, the lifeguards were successfully expanding DPI to two days, adding many events including a pancake breakfast, a 10k race, lighthouse tours, kayak races and many other events. This was also a success, but at this point, the Lifeguard Association realized to make DPI really blossom, they needed to “pass the baton” to the new Presque Isle Partnership to grow the event. This could further the expansion of many improvements required on the park. This happened in late 1994 and into 1995, when the Partnership took control of DPI.
The very first project that the Partnership funded was the Presque Isle Lighthouse Kiosk. It was quickly designed and under construction before anyone knew about it. Don took his position seriously and just charged ahead with the project even before he had state approval. However, the results were wonderful, and the board and the Commonwealth approved the project. Funding for the project came later from the first year’s Partnership running of DPI.
In 1996, the Partnership opened a small gift shop in what Don was using as his office within the Stull Center. His wife, Paula, and volunteers ran it until it was moved to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.
One of the key actions the board took in1996 was the appointment of four environmental educators from each of the local colleges. They worked on a huge range of projects, including educational publications for the public, educational panels placed throughout the park, the sand recovery snow-fence project, the turtle observation platform, the handicapped fishing platforms, plus many more.
In 2001, Don Guerrein retired, and a search for a new Executive Director commenced. After an extensive search, Steve McDermott was hired as Executive Director. For several years, the Partnership maintained an office within an area of the Presque Isle Marina maintenance building. This began a period of rapid change, and the initiation of many new projects, with the Board of Directors expanding by two new members.
In May 2006, the DCNR opened the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the top of the peninsula hill and moved its administrative offices to the new Center. The offices of the Presque Isle Partnership also moved into the building. In addition, the Center housed a large format theatre, nature shop, and café and many other environmentally related non-profits.
Upon this move by the Partnership, they were asked to manage the theatre, café and the gift shop operations. After about six years, the Partnership and the DCNR initiated a new agreement, and now the Partnership only manages the Presque Isle Gallery & Gift Shop. The DCNR is now responsible for managing the café lease, and the Regional Science Consortium manages the large format Big Green Screen Theatre.
In 2009, Jon DeMarco joined the Partnership as an intern and worked organizing many of the Partnership’s projects. It was in 2013 that he was hired by the Partnership as Events Coordinator. He worked with Steve McDermott and followed him as Executive Director in 2014.
After 20 years of background work, the Partnership, in September of 2014, was instrumental in working with the DCNR and state to have the Presque Isle Lighthouse opened to the public through a 35-year lease to a newly formed non-profit organization, the Presque Isle Light Station. Several Partnership board members also became members of the new lighthouse Board of Directors. The Partnership also provided significant initial funding to the lighthouse through profits from its Best Summer Nights concerts and continuing sponsorship of Discover Presque Isle.
Over the years, the Partnership’s mission of helping improve the park has been accomplished by completing over 170 projects including Best Summer Night Concerts on the beach, constructing a natural playground, holding an annual bay swim, and many more. A list of the projects is attached.
There continues to be many projects and needs on Presque Isle that are not included in the current state budget and would not be completed. The Presque Isle Partnership is the single organization established just for this type of contingency.
Over the years, the public, both local and from afar, has stepped forward to help fund and complete many projects benefiting Presque Isle and enhancing the visitor experiences on the park. This support has been through memberships to the Partnership, support of their projects, donations, attendance at DPI and other fundraising events, and/or volunteering at the Partnership events.