Kilhoffer happy to be working close to home

Photo By Yelena Kisler – ECCD Resource Conservation Technician Kelsey Kilhoffer poses at her desk, though on many days the position has her out in the field working with Elk County farmers.
By: 
Yelena Kisler
Staff Writer

Growing up in Elk County, Kelsey Kilhoffer has always loved the outdoors, and after deciding the city life wasn't for her, returned to become Elk County Conservation District's newest resource conservation technician.
Kilhoffer is originally from Ridgway and graduated from Ridgway High School in 2009. She credits her father, Tom "Tank" Kilhoffer, with nurturing her love of the outdoors at a young age.
"Growing up, my dad was really big into the outdoors," she said. "He helps to run the Island Run Trout nursery for the Island Run Sportsmen's Club. So I grew up with fishing being a big part of my life. That was really how I grew to love the outdoors."
After high school, she attended Pitt-Bradford where she earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry.
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do after that, so I ended up going to grad school at Shippensburg University for geoenvironmental studies," said Kilhoffer.
At Shippensburg, Kilhoffer studied under geographer, Scott Drzyzga, Ph.D., who she says was a big influence on her career choice.
"He was just a wonderful professor," she said. "He's the type of person that you leave somewhere and you remember him. He had a big influence on the direction I went to grad school. I had a GIS-focused program in grad school, and that was mainly because he was such a wonderful professor."
After graduate school, Kilhoffer, on a whim, decided to move to Pittsburgh with a friend.
"I felt like I needed to experience something other than the small town life," she said. "So I moved there with no job and when I got there, I started applying for anything and everything related to the environmental field."
She still needed an internship to fulfill a portion of her graduate program and ended up getting one at the Allegheny County Conservation District, which led to a full-time position.
"I loved working there," she said.
At that conservation district, she worked primarily on a computer program called ArcGIS. According to the company website, "ArcGIS is a geographic information system for working with maps and geographic information. It is used for creating and using maps, compiling geographic data, analyzing mapped information, sharing and discovering geographic information, using maps and geographic information in a range of applications, and managing geographic information in a database."
While in Pittsburgh, she met her boyfriend and together, they decided they wanted to move to a more rural area.
"I am 100 percent happier living in a small town," said Kilhoffer. "I'm so glad that I got to experience Pittsburgh, even though it's not a big city, I got to experience something other than small-town life. But, I think it made me appreciate living up here more."
Kilhoffer said she feels very fortunate that both she and her boyfriend, who is a forester, were able to find jobs in their respective fields. When they first moved back to the area, she worked a desk job for some time before coming across the resource conservation technician position at the Elk County Conservation District, for which she jumped at the chance to apply.
"[Now] I can't ask for a better day-to-day," she said. "It's never the same each day, it's not monotonous. I really appreciate being able to go out in the field and being able to meet different people and do different things."
One of Kilhoffer's first big events was the Winter Farmer's Meetings in Ridgway and St. Marys and she is working on more events.
"Coming up we have the Ag Tour, that's the next big thing," she said. "We'll tour Hoffman Appalachian Farms, then tour Straub brewery, then we'll go to Chocolate Drop Farm. So it's the succession of where the hops come from, then you get to see them being used, then the spent greens being used as feed for cattle."
In addition to organizing events like the Farmers Meeting and Agricultural Tour, Kilhoffer is responsible for assisting farmers with nutrient management. In order to do this, Kilhoffer had to earn a nutrient management certification which she completed in June.
"Nutrient management is a big part of the job, so those training (sessions) were taking up a lot of my time. Now that those are over with, I now get to go on farm visits. Farm visits can vary from walking a pasture to (taking) soil samples. We are working on a project in Kersey to install a manure storage facility, so that's a big project that requires a series of farm visits. It's always different. Of course, there are times where I'm here in the office and working on plans and paperwork, but typically, a couple of times a week, I get to go out in the field and visit with farmers for various different reasons."
A large portion of the work Kilhoffer does with local farmers, is helping connect them to government programs they can use to make improvements for maintenance and to promote conservation.
"We're the middleman between NRCS programs and farmers," said Kilhoffer. "NRCS has numerous programs to help farmers financially with projects they may not be able to fund on their own." Since NRCS covers multiple counties and offers a variety of programs that may or may not be beneficial to local farmers, Kilhoffer and the ECCD act as a liaison between the farmers and NRCS.
The Department of Environmental Protection recently released a grant program that is a small business advantage grant, and Kilhoffer hopes to be able to help area farmers apply for these over the next few months.
"If anyone is interested I'd definitely like to help them out with that application," she said. "Farmers are eligible to apply, and [the grant] is focused on pollution reduction, so improvements that can be made on a farm to reduce pollution or reduce erosion."
Kilhoffer has stayed busy since starting as a conservation technician at the ECCD and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Her passion for her work and this area shine through in every new project she tackles.
"I'm really grateful to be in this position and be working in my field," she said.

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