In 2011, a group of campers saw fireflies flashing in unison at their campsite in the Allegheny National Forest. Not fully understanding the significance of what they observed, they contacted a firefly research group - the Firefly International Research & Education team (FIRE Team). In June of 2012, the FIRE Team came to Kellettville to study the fireflies of the ANF for 10 nights. They confirmed the presence of over 15 species of fireflies, including the synchronous firefly, Photinus carolinus. In 2013, a handful of local residents formed the PA Firefly Festival (PAFF) to celebrate the annual mating season of fireflies in late June. It didn’t take long for people to catch on to this unique natural phenomenon and they flocked to Kellettville to recapture the nostalgia of watching fireflies. However, it soon became evident that the enthusiasm was both a blessing and a curse. By 2016, the number of visitors had overwhelmed our capacity, and we were worried we could be endangering the very thing that started this whole event.
In 2017, World-renowned Firefly Researcher, Sara Lewis, Ph.D. from Tufts University and author of Silent Sparks, gave a key-note address at the 5th Annual PA Firefly Festival. She spoke about the double-edged sword of Firefly Tourism. Recently, she co-authored an article that was published in the Society for Conservation Biology regarding the global phenomenon of Firefly Tourism. Moreover, she was impressed with some of the protocols that PAFF was using to mitigate the impacts. We were inspired and heeded her warnings. We had to find responsible ways to protect our fireflies and their sensitive habitat while providing the public with a unique firefly experience. Click here to read our complete statement.
Our festival is now on two nights with a limited registered audience. Additionally, we also sponsor several unique campouts known as Glow & Know Campouts at locations outside of Forest County. These efforts allow the festival organizers the ability to provide a more immersive experience for the firefly tourist while not overstressing any one environment/habitat. The firefly tourist and campers are provided entertainment, expert information, firefly etiquette protocol, and interpretive guides in small groups while safely and responsibly observing the firefly displays.
We have found endless inspiration from the fireflies, and over the years we have evolved our mission to achieving five specific goals.
Offer our curricular materials, educational displays, and slide presentations to schools and special interest groups
Sponsorship of firefly scientists to the festival and researchers to the area
Bring firefly habitat protection and awareness to local, state and federal agencies
Enlist local residents in long-term monitoring of firefly populations
Sponsor summer internship, recruiting from nearby institutions of higher education