Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Coal Region Canary
Coal Region CanaryCoal Region Canary

Coal Region Culture

‘Porcupine Pat’ Retiring as Environmental Education Coordinator in Schuylkill County

Pat McKinney reflects on decades spent educating youth and adults on the environment and wildlife in Schuylkill County.

There are many reasons to avoid getting close to a porcupine. In fact, there are 30,000 of them. That’s how many quills they carry, so it’s logical to back away when you see one.

Yet the person known in Schuylkill County for three decades as “Porcupine Pat” McKinney has had a knack for drawing people closer, to each other, and to the natural world.

“That’s what I like best about our Envirothon,” McKinney says, who retires Wednesday as Environmental Education Coordinator for the Schuylkill Conservation District. “I’d see the kids putting their heads together, and they would collaborate to solve a problem.”

The annual Envirothon, held the first Wednesday in May, is just one of a myriad events McKinney has championed in the area. He’s quick to point out that past Conservation District Director Craig Morgan started the Envirothon in 1979, then calling it Enviro-Olympics.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

During the Envirothon, three levels of students (elementary, middle and high school) answer questions in the fields of wildlife, forestry and aquatic systems. McKinney loves to educate others on all aspects of those topics and didn’t stop at taking his message to students.

He’s also done informative demonstrations at teacher workshops (Project Wild, Project Learning Tree), preschools, libraries, senior groups, day camps, special education populations, churches, families on hikes, and visitors to municipal, county and state parks.

“I always say, awareness leads to appreciation, and appreciation leads to actions to help the environment,” he says.

How Did Porcupine Pat Actually Become Porcupine Pat?

Originally from Ohio, McKinney enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago, planning to major in media studies. He later transferred to Ohio State University.

“I grew up in the inner city,” McKinney says. “At Ohio State I had a biology professor who opened my eyes to opportunities in that field – he told me, you like art, science and people, here’s what you can do.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

McKinney graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Interpretation. His career started with work as a ranger/naturalist in western Pennsylvania.

So, how did he eventually become known by the name tens of thousands of people in Schuylkill County know him as?

“I was on a hike with Girl Scouts, and we saw a lot of critters, including a porcupine snoozing in a tree,” he recalls. “We were playing a name game, where you use the first letter of your name and match with something from the outdoors.

“When it was my turn, I was going to say Pine Tree Pat,” he says. “But they said, no, no … Porcupine Pat!”

Career Notes

McKinney first worked for the Schuylkill Conservation District as a subcontractor and was hired full time on January 1, 1994. “

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Our county was developed because of natural resources, coal, iron, timber and water,” McKinney says. “We need food, water and shelter to survive, and we had the resources.”

McKinney’s range of programs included “Tickly & Prickly” for youngsters and “Ways of Wildlife” for older students.

He toted wildlife “samples” such as pelts and antlers in a group of suitcases. He also worked with young people on individual ventures, such as 4H service projects and Eagle Scout projects.

One of his favorite memories that he says has the “Ooh and Aah” factor was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a bald eagle in action.

“I was with some second graders at Sweet Arrow Lake County Park,” he says. “We saw a Bald Eagle dive into the water for a fish and take off with the fish.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

McKinney calls Sweet Arrow Lake a “keystone” for the county, along with the Schuylkill River Trail (he’s involved in the coalition striving to expand and improve it) and the county’s state parks, Locust Lake and Tuscarora.

He’s proud of improvements and ongoing programming at The Bear Creek Environmental Area at Schuylkill County Fairgrounds, Summit Station, including its trail system and the Dr. James S. Shadle Nature Center wildlife museum.

Over the years, he’s received numerous awards including the prestigious Sandy Cochoran Award, presented by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association for “excellence in natural resources education.”

He’s been the state’s Environmental Educator of the Year.

McKinney also serves as a board member for the Schuylkill County Historical Society, the Schuylkill County Conservancy, and the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators, where he serves as treasurer.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Schuylkill County Commissioners Honor Porcupine Pat

Schuylkill County Commissioners were officially informed of McKinney’s retirement earlier this month. They each took a few minutes to discuss the impact Porcupine’s had in his time at the Conservation District.

“I’d like to thank Porcupine Pat, as he’s well-known,” Commissioner Gary Hess said. “He’s put a lot of time into the county, educating a lot of kids on the environment and sustainability.”

Hess said McKinney was a well-known person at the County’s Youth Summit events over the years.

“He would help us at the Youth Summit and we’d ask if anyone knew about the Conservation District and they would all say, ‘Porcupine Pat’,” Hess said.

Commissioner Boots Hetherington said Porcupine Pat was a “household name” for his family. He recalled being on the Conservation District board when McKinney was first brought on more than 30 years ago.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

He said hiring him for the role he held for that long was a good one for Schuylkill County.

“Porcupine Pat hit the ground running. I was there when he was hired. He did everything he promised to do and much, much more,” Hetherington said. “You name it with something environmental and Porcupine Pat is up to his neck in it.”

Commissioner Larry Padora thanked McKinney for his dedication to Schuylkill County, too.

“He’s been a tremendous asset to the county and a spokesperson for the environment,” Padora said. “The man enjoys what he does.”

What’s Next

McKinney will still be working part-time doing programs, in fact, he’ll soon be at the Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“I want to talk about careers in the outdoors – rangers, agri-business, outdoor recreation and tourism – and let students know about all the opportunities there are,” McKinney says. “That’s what someone did for me, and I hope to start the same interest in others.”

You can also see McKinney’s work online through several different platforms.

Follow Porcupine Pat on Facebook, his YouTube channel, on Instagram and at his Quills blog hosted by the daily local newspaper.

“Working through Covid 19 really solidified my reliance on technology,” McKinney says. “I post seven days a week.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Subscribe to Coal Region Canary

Get email updates from Coal Region Canary by becoming a subscriber today. Just enter your email address below to get started!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Cail Morgan

    February 4, 2024 at 1:10 am

    I knew him for several years back in the day. A great guy. Glad he’s doing well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More From The Canary

PA Lottery Numbers

Saturday's winning numbers

PA Lottery Numbers

Wednesday's winning numbers

PA Lottery Numbers

Thursday's winning numbers

PA Lottery Numbers

Sunday's winning numbers

Local Sports

Here is a weekly update on coal region natives in pro baseball.

Schuylkill County News

Last seen leaving his home at 5:30 a.m. Sunday

Minersville News

Police have not released the name of the victim.

Pottsville News

A food truck would have a hard time replacing this atmosphere.