There are many geographic icons at Penn State that have come to represent the spirit of our university: the Lion Shrine, Old Main, and the Pattee Mall to name just a few. These sacred pillars are timeless — generations of Penn Staters come to know and cherish them during their time in the Nittany Valley. So imagine for a moment that one of these monuments comes under attack and simply disappears. This is exactly what the Mount Nittany Conservancy prevented from happening to the oldest and most visible symbol of our valley: Mount Nittany.
Mount Nittany has watched over Penn State University and its friends since its inception. The mountain helped inspire our team mascot and watches over us while we cheer on our beloved Nittany Lions every home game at Beaver Stadium. If you really think about it, the name of our mountain is everywhere (Nittany Crossings, Nittany Notes, the Nittany Mall…the list goes on). We even have a piece of Mount Nittany right downtown, featured as the focal point in Michael Pilato’s new mural.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine State College without the mountain. But we weren’t that far from a very different Mount Nittany. Thomas A. Shakely, a former Penn State student who served as President & General Manager of The LION 90.7fm and founder of Safeguard Old State, decided that there needed to be a book that told the real story of Mount Nittany, how close we came to losing it, and how the Mount Nittany Conservancy saved it.
In an interview with Onward State, Shakely explained that he wanted to share a perspective of the mountain that he had never encountered anywhere else. With so many legends and stories, he decided that a book should be created to assemble all of the information in one comprehensive medium.
The book, Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism, is split into two major sections. The first gives a history lesson on Mount Nittany and the steps that were taken to successfully save it from several attempts to clear cut it throughout the last century. The second half focuses on Hort Woods and establishes it as a reminder of what can happen when a piece of our environmental history isn’t conserved successfully.
Shakely’s own musings and personal thoughts about the mountain connect perfectly with segments of a transcribed interview he conducted with Dr. Ben Novak, the founder of the Mount Nittany Conservancy and former Penn State trustee.
“I wanted people to read the book and come away with the feeling like they had sat at that same table with Ben,” Shakely said. “I want them to feel like they are right there having a beer with us. I didn’t want it to be academic.”
Every person who becomes a part of this place has their own favorite memory of Penn State. Shakely hopes that reading his book will help students recognize what’s important to them and what they want their memory of Penn State to be. This memory is something that you can carry with your your whole life.
“Mount Nittany was not part of a marketing campaign,” Shakely said. “There’s just something about it that instills awe in a person. Even though there’s nothing particularly special about the mountain, it’s special to us.”
He also warns students not to wait until their last semester to climb Mount Nittany. “To put it in a way that’s a little inappropriate, waiting until your last semester to climb the mountain is like being married and saying ‘I’ve heard sex is pretty great, but I’m going to wait until my wife and I are 60 to have it,'” Shakely said. “If you’ve heard about this great thing, why would you wait to try it?”
Reading Conserving Mount Nittany not only instills more of a respect for the mountain and the effort to save it, it also gives an interesting look back into the history of our university. It’s easy to forget that Evan Pugh and Fred Lewis Pattee were real people, influential benefactors to Penn State who have looked out at the same mountain we do today.
I’ll let Ben Novak bring it home:
“Everyone in America wants to know, ‘Well, what can I do with this speaking practically?’ And I respond saying, ‘No! No. You simply give someone a magic moment. A magic vision.
“Why do we love the story of Harry Potter and Hogwarts and J.K. Rowling’s wizarding universe, or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth? It is all magical, and it turns out that it does us some practical good to have some magic in our lives…I want there to be Harry Potters in Centre County. We don’t have to go to England or even a theme park to experience something magical. We have such a place right in the Nittany Valley, right where we live.”
Conserving Mount Nittany was released last week and is available now on Amazon at a special price for the remainder of the week, and the first 10 commenters who share their own personal experience with Mount Nittany on Shakely’s personal website will receive their own free copy of the book.
Read this book and the next time you look east to Mount Nittany, which has protected Penn State from the wicked winds of the north for generations, you’ll have a greater understanding of just how it came to be and how it will forever continue to be so.