'Semi-retirement' hasn't stopped Kemp from making contributions
Watershed specialist Dave Kemp has stepped down from his role with the Somerset Conservation District and is looking forward to traveling in his retirement. (Staff photo by Bruce Siwy)
The Confluence native walked away from a 22-year career at Earthtech Inc. in Johnstown to operate a bed-and-breakfast in Ursina and work as a watershed specialist for the Somerset Conservation District.
Over the past five years Kemp has had more than a hand in securing new regulatory protections for endangered Laurel Hill Creek, improving the quality of the once-decimated Stonycreek River and implementing a countywide water quality monitoring system to quickly diagnose any significant pollution events.
“It’s been a real eye-opening experience to work on the private and government side of things,” he said.
Kemp’s story begins in Confluence. Raised the son of a barber, he gained his first real working experience through one of his father’s clients, an employee at Youghiogheny Lake. This contact enabled Kemp to work his high school summers as a ranger.
“That’s what really got me started on the outdoor, environmental end of things,” he said.
The experience was part of what steered Kemp onto his ultimate career path. After graduating from Turkeyfoot he went to Clemson University in South Carolina to study forestry.
His first geology class, however, caused him to slightly alter his course.
“I just became really fascinated by the different aspects of how the earth operates,” Kemp said.
He transferred first to West Virginia University and then to Weber State University in Utah. He spent some of his time out West working for the U.S. Forest Service, at one time mapping out an enormous landslide – 3 miles wide and 5 miles long.
“It was pushing a river and changing the course of the river to where it was threatening a town,” Kemp said.
He finished his time at Weber with a bachelor’s degree in the triple major of geology/geography/zoology.
Returning to Somerset County, he married his wife, Carol, a guidance counselor at Somerset Area School District. Kemp then found work with Delta Mining, Maryland’s largest coal company. His job was to go to leased properties and test water quality and for coal reserves to determine the feasibility of mining.
He worked there for five years before leaving for Earthtech, where he was hired mostly by mining and windmill companies to do geotechnical work and groundwater investigations.
“It was an opportunity to get on with a company that was just starting out and growing,” Kemp said. “I had an opportunity to branch out and do a little more with the geological background that I had.”
After 22 years his life came to another confluence. He bought a former bed-and-breakfast previously owned by his wife’s uncle. The Ursina business was rekindled and Kemp, meanwhile, began working for the Somerset Conservation District.
It wasn’t a typical retirement.
“Both jobs were full-time jobs,” Kemp said. He described the bed-and-breakfast as an endeavor “totally different because you were at the will of the people, whether or not they were going to come there.”
It was nonetheless an unforgettable experience. Because of the B&B’s close proximity to the Yough Lake and Frank Lloyd Wright’s world-famous Fallingwater house, the Kemps received an impressive number of international guests, including citizens of Australia, Poland and Japan.