Pennsylvania Firefly Festival: Mother Nature’s Fireworks on Full Display
Fireflies. “Lightning bugs.”
I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love them?
The mere thought brings back vivid childhood memories of barefoot warm summer nights and a Mason jar with holes punched in the lid.
These little bioluminescent airborne creatures are the official Pennsylvania State insect and now it’s once again time to celebrate their all-too-brief lifespan.
For the sixth consecutive year, The Pennsylvania Firefly Festival (PAFF) will celebrate its annual event from noon to midnight, Saturday, June 23 at the Black Caddis Ranch and B&B in Kellettville, deep in the Allegheny National Forest’s Tionesta Creek Valley.
The PAFF continues its mission, not only honoring these fascinating insects, but educating the public about firefly science and conservation.
The annual festival coincides with the mating displays of over 15 different species of firefly in the Allegheny National Forest area, including the Synchronous Firefly and the unique “Chinese Lantern” firefly along the Tionesta Creek.
So popular is this annual event that crowd control is understandably necessary.
The after-dark pre-registered guided tours officially sold out in late May. For those not pre-registered for the evening firefly tours, they must be willing to wait in a queue and will go into a “Stand-By” line at 8:30 p.m. to wait for an opening.
Pre-registered festival visitors, weather permitting, will see the firefly displays after 10 pm, but during the day between Noon and sunset, everyone can enjoy exhibits, art, crafts, music, food and fun on the grounds of the Black Caddis Ranch and B&B.
PAFF Secretary Peggy Butler says they are ready for the tourism crush. “We get visitors from all over the U.S., Canada and beyond. We’ve had people from every continent except Antarctica, of course.”
Peggy said, upon their arrival, visitors place a dot on the map of the globe noting their hometowns — and home countries. “We get quite a few from China and India and many come because they have never seen a firefly, or the fireflies have disappeared from their home.”
PAFF began as a joint effort by local residents, artists and musicians who wanted to celebrate the annual mating displays with an event, but also to raise awareness about the fireflies and their significance to the Allegheny National Forest.
“Our main objective was to have fun and give people a chance to witness this amazing natural light show,” said Peggy.
She explained the program became more science-focused and grew their educational offerings to extend beyond the festival and out into the community.
“We recognized that people were hungry for the information, so we started writing grants and developed a curriculum and program to present to schools and groups outside of just the festival,” Peggy said.
She said there has been tremendous response from the scientific community since the Firefly International Research & Education (FIRE) Team arrived in 2012.
“We have researchers and citizen scientists come in annually to study and teach us what they’ve learned including: Dr. Denise Piechnik, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford; Dr. Sarah Sander Lower, Bucknell University, from the Firefly Genome Project; Dr. Sara Lewis, Tufts University and author of Silent Sparks; and Lynn Faust from the original FIRE Team and author of Fireflies, Glow Worms and Lightning Bugs. All of these women also serve on our advisory council,” said Peggy.
Perhaps the biggest recognition came after the film “Attenborough’s Light On Earth” was released in 2016.
“Sir David Attenborough, the world-renowned naturalist, recorded a segment of his film about bioluminescence here in Kellettville in 2015 and it won awards and world-wide recognition. We’ve since had two more films made here,” said Peggy, who notes that one of the films was Serengeti Rules, based on the best-selling book by Sean Carroll, which recently made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Trained volunteers and naturalists will be available throughout the festival to provide information about the fireflies, the area, and “Firefly Viewing Etiquette,” but Peggy said the growing success of the festival also comes with concerns. “How do we sustain the festival and all of the foot traffic without endangering the habitat of the very thing that everyone wants to see – the fireflies? We must protect these fragile creatures,” said Peggy.
The other concern is the weather, which certainly affects the festival. “The daytime activities are rain or shine,” said Peggy. “In the event of severe thunderstorms or high winds, all activities will be suspended. We encourage people to come prepared for the weather conditions.” She notes that nighttime temperatures are critical to the firefly display, because if temperatures dip below 60 degrees, the fireflies don’t fly and there are no refunds available due to weather conditions. (Photo by David Hughes, Courtesy PAFF)
The fine work and efforts of the PAFF Committee have not gone unnoticed. In April, PAFF was honored by the PA Wilds Center at the Annual PA Wilds Dinner & Champion Awards Banquet, receiving the Conservation Stewardship Award.
PA Wilds recognized PAFF for the significant contributions it has made through its multi-faceted conservation work including innovative partnerships, training and education, youth involvement, usage of grant funding to support conservation initiatives, educational marketing and events, collaboration with conservationists and researchers, habitat preservation and more.
The PA Firefly Festival is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)3 organization. All donations and sponsorship contributions go to support the mission of the festival. The PAFF board is totally comprised of volunteers who receive no compensation from donations. More information is available on the PAFF website and on Facebook.