Fifth grader leading the charge to help South Park Game Preserve

Published Apr 8, 2014 at 9:15 am (Updated Apr 8, 2014 at 9:15 am)

Presley Oliphant has always enjoyed visiting the South Park Game Preserve with her family, seeing the animals and feeding the ducks, but those visits also made her sad.

“(The preserve) looked pretty bad,” said the 11-year-old from South Park.

Last year, Presley decided that someone needed to do something about the deteriorating preserve. The then fourth grader took it upon herself to write an essay about conditions at the preserve and to present that essay at the Friends of South Park monthly meeting.

In the essay, she wrote about visiting the preserve with her family and how she thought the place could use a makeover not only for the visitors, but also for the animals who live there.

“The animals deserve a great home, not an average home,” she wrote.

She also told the group that she was willing to start the fundraising “by putting my own dollar in.”

One of Presley’s first fundraising efforts was an Easter Egg hunt held in the park last year.

On April 13, Presley will host the second annual Easter Egg hunt to benefit the game preserve. The event, which will begin at noon at the Upper Children’s Playground at the intersection of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive, is free to children under the age of 12. Activities will include hunting for more than 3,000 treat-filled eggs, face painting and crafts, as well as an appearance by the Easter Bunny.

There will also be a sale of Max Danger Designs T-shirts emblazoned with an image of a buffalo and Presley’s website. Half of the profits from the T-shirt sale go into the fund to make over the preserve. In addition, donations to the fund will be accepted.

To date, the fifth grader has raised $2,575. All funds are being managed by the Friends of South Park group and are earmarked for improvements and upgrades to the preserve, explained her father, Joe Oliphant.

The preserve, located on a hill above Corrigan Drive, is home not only to a herd of buffalo, but also deer, ducks, geese, turtles and even a peacock.

So familiar is Presley with the inhabitants, that she has names for her favorites knows them by sight and checks in on them often.

“We gather up the old bread to feed the animals,” said Joe Oliphant. However, he added, since becoming involved with the preserve, the family has learned that items such as grapes, raisins and vegetables are much better to bring for the animals.

Pointing out the murky condition of the pond and the bread clogging the drainage system, he added that a badly need improvement is a filtration system.

On a recent sunny Sunday, the preserve was filled with families walking along the trail, feeding the animals and shooting photos.

“It’s like being in the country,” said Kathy Hunter, a resident of Swissvale who was enjoying the preserve with her granddaughter. “There are so many things to do here.”

The preserve is located on the former Kiddoo homestead, which was built in 1788 and housed a family was involved in the Whiskey Rebellion. For a time, the old house was inhabited by a game keeper. However, most of the buildings are beyond repair and the house is scheduled for demolition.

Presley said among the first improvements she would like to make is the rebuilding of the retaining wall. She would also like to have signs posted throughout the preserve identifying the different species of animals and telling a little bit about them.

Noting that the park is a good place for school children to learn about animals, Presley said she would like the county to move the nature center, currently located on Brownsville Road, into the preserve, and on her website, she encourages scouting troops to get involved.

Presley herself got her classmates involved last fall when students made and hung more than 300 pine cone bird feeders.

On her website, www.savethesouthparkwebsite, and her Facebook page, Save the South Park Game Preserve, she posts updates about the preserve and encourages people to post about experiences visiting the game preserve. She even held a drawing concert to involve younger children. She currently has more than 2,000 friends.

Presley has also been recognized by Allegheny County Council and was invited to speak at the Youth Preservation Society at the Statewide Conference on Heritage.

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