Fall Service at Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14309A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Work in the shadow of the cantilevers of “One of the 12 landmarks that will change the way you see the world"
  • Enjoy Class IV whitewater on your day off
  • Benefit from an in-depth tour of Fallingwater


  • All outfitter’s fees
  • All meals except one, when we get to relax at a local restaurant
  • Admission to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob


DatesOct 12–18, 2014
StaffMarty Joyce

Trip Overview

The Trip

If you look at the design, you can hear the waterfall. - Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright’s triumph is a “rhythmic interplay of interior and exterior space.” It integrates trees, rocks, water, and habitat in such a way that outside and inside boundaries fade in an idyllic setting.

As its website says:

Echoing a natural pattern established by its rock ledges, Wright placed the house over the falls in a series of cantilevered concrete trays anchored to a central stone chimney mass quarried from the same local Pottsville sandstone as the rock ledges. Although the house rises more than 30 feet above the falls, strong horizontal lines and low ceilings help maintain the safe, sheltering effect that Wright sought to achieve.

In the 1930s, the Kaufmann Family commissioned Wright to design a vacation home for them far away from the smoke and dust of the Pittsburgh steel mills. They thought their new country house would have a wonderful view of the falls. Much to their surprise Wright designed the house right on top of the falls of Bear Run. 

National Geographic Traveler magazine has named Fallingwater one of its “50 Places of a Lifetime,” while Smithsonian Magazine has included it in its list of “28 Places You Should See in Your Lifetime.”

We will also visit another home designed by Wright, Kentuck Knob.

Also from its website:

Designed on a hexagonal module, Kentuck Knob is a small one-story Usonian house. Usonian, meaning affordable for the common people, was a signature design of Wright. Both dramatic and serene, the house, situated just below the crest of the hills, appears almost part of the mountain itself.   

Kentuck Knob’s construction materials of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress blend naturally with the surroundings. The truly functional kitchen is the architectural core of the home. Its walls of stone not only anchor the two wings of the house but they also rise to penetrate the horizontal line of the copper roof. An open floor plan, cantilevered overhangs and great expanses of glass effortlessly integrate the inside with the outside. Stretching to the east, just beyond the back terrace, is a breathtaking panorama of the Youghiogheny River Gorge and the beautiful Laurel Highlands mountains that surround it.

Ohiopyle State Park is a splendid setting of rugged natural beauty in Southwestern Pennsylvania. "Ohiopyle" is derived from the Lenape phrase ahi opihəle which means “it turns very white,” referring to the frothy waterfalls. The focal point is the Youghiogheny River Gorge, which passes through the heart of the park. In 1753, George Washington tried to use the Youghiogheny River as a means to reach the French Fort Duquesne at the fork of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. He was forced to abandon the river passage by the waterfalls in the Ohiopyle area. Unlike our Founding Father, we will embrace, not abandon, some of the best whitewater in the east on Class IV rapids on the lower “Yough.”

The Project

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy owns Fallingwater and the area surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic house. We will be working closely with their staff, re-routing a hiking trail near their maintenance building and doing other tasks as needed. Note that because of the nature of service trips and the pre-planning needed, the work project may change and the Conservancy may have different priorities once our departure date arrives.


Day 1: We will meet for dinner at the two houses provided by the Conservancy, which are about four miles from the entrance to Fallingwater. Detailed instructions and maps will be sent prior to the trip.   

Days 2-3: Work days

Day 4: We will raft the Class III-IV whitewater of the lower Yough. Dinner will be in the town of Ohiopyle at your expense. 

Days 5-6: Work days

Day 7: After breakfast and a thorough cleanup and scrubbing of our housing accommodations, we will depart. 

Note that the itinerary is subject to change due to weather, water levels, the service needs of the Fallingwater staff, and other unforeseen conditions.



Getting There

Fallingwater is located eight miles north of Ohiopyle State Park on State Route 381. Driving access from the south is via Interstate 68 and from the north is via Interstate 70/76 (The Pennsylvania Turnpike). The nearest airport is in Pittsburgh. Because of our remote location, there is no public transportation. Specific details will be sent to participants prior to the trip. For those using GPS units: Use the address 1491 Mill Run Road.

Accommodations and Food

Our base will be two houses or tenting (depending on the size of the group) not far from the entrance to Fallingwater. Participants must bring sleeping bags and the usual outdoor gear for a week. Work gloves and safety glasses are recommended. Cooking, dishwashing, and related commissary duties will be done by the participants with direction from the leader. Breakfast and dinner will be at the house and lunch will be at the work project.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is suitable for folks who like the challenge of a work project and want to learn more about the harmonious union of art and nature embodied in Wright’s Fallingwater. Participants should be in good physical condition to enjoy this trip. Our work will range from moderate to strenuous. Expect manual labor, dirt, sweat, rain, and chilly October mornings. Team work is essential, safety paramount, and no one is expected to perform beyond his or her physical capabilities. Help is always available -– a positive attitude and friendly cooperation are better assets than brute strength.

The minimum age for rafting the Yough is 12, so rafting expertise is not a prerequisite.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent prior to departure time. 

  • T-shirts, shorts, and other clothing for the week
  • Canvas shoes/sneakers/water shoes: an old pair for muddy excursions and rafting
  • Long-sleeved shirts: lightweight for sun and mosquito protection, heavier for chilly nights (we could encounter frost at this time of the year)
  • Light jacket/sweater: for cool mornings
  • Work gloves and safety glasses
  • Work boots (sneakers and open-toed shoes are not permitted while working)
  • Long pants: protection from sun, poison ivy, and ticks
  • Sunglasses, sun hat, sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Camera and binoculars, waterproof camera for raft trip
  • Daypack, canteen
  • Rain gear: prepare for rain, equip for rain (rain jackets and pants)
  • Sleeping bag, personal toilet items, and personal eating items (spoon, cup, plate)
  • Group cooking and cleanup gear is provided. The outfitter will provide life jackets.



Ohiopyle State Park is part of the state system, in which a park is located within 30 miles of every resident. It provides a unique natural habitat for numerous botanical treasures, panoramic views, impressive rock faces, and a diverse sampling of animals native to the area. The Ferncliff Peninsula, formed by a great horseshoe bend in the Yough River, is a registered National Natural Landmark. Trains still run through the gorge, but one of the first rails-to-trails projects was pioneered on the abandoned tracks on the southwest side of the river. In the past, coal mining, lumber, and tanning were small industries. About a hundred years ago, there was a large saw mill at the main falls area. Buildings have since been removed and the forest is regenerating with signs of past activities still evident.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy protects and restores exceptional places to provide our region with clean waters, healthy forests, and wildlife and natural areas for the benefit of present and future generations. The Conservancy creates green spaces and gardens, contributing to the vitality of our cities and towns, and preserves Fallingwater, a symbol of people living in harmony with nature.

WPC has restored watersheds around the state and saved numerous natural habitats to preserve Pennsylvania’s rich diversity of life. Of the total land protected by land trust organizations in Pennsylvania, nearly 50% has been conserved by WPC.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Marty Joyce has been leading national outings for over 30 years. He has lead backpack, family, service, base camp, and canoe trips throughout the Southeast. He has led service trips working with the following organizations: National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and several private conservation organizations. The projects included: trail building and maintenance in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest, North Carolina, trail clearing from canoes in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia, a variety of projects (from envelope stuffing to carpentry) with a group of middle school students at Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, building a butterfly/birding walk in Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia, trail building and restoring historic cemeteries in the New River Gorge, West Virginia, fencing in the Ocala National Forest, Florida, clearing and constructing trails in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin islands. Twice yearly he volunteers at Deer Valley YMCA Camp (a family camp) not far from Fallingwater doing woodworking and construction projects. This will be his second national outing to Ohiopyle State Park area. He has hiked, biked, skied, and paddled the park and surrounding area for years.

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