Message from Phil Wenger, president of Lancaster Conservancy

For two generations, the Conservancy has linked arms with those passionate about nature. We came together to protect habitat because we love the sound of song birds. We acquired and conserved our few remaining forests to protect the fish that swim in our waterways. We stayed true to our mission, knowing that our actions impact the larger challenge of climate change. We bought land one tract at a time and opened those preserves for you. Those of you reading this are friends who have heeded that call to nurture nature, knowing that nature nurtures us.

Then a tiny coronavirus came along, from nature no less, and changed our world overnight. Two things started to happen almost simultaneously. Our earth began to heal itself when humans stayed home.  We see orcas hunt in ports that were previously too loud with boat traffic and the air in many of our smoggiest cities cleared enough to allow people to see stars for the first time. The second thing we see is people turning to nature in record droves to find solace and peace when anxiety is at its peak. Visitors flock to trails and parks, anywhere they can be outdoors to exercise in nature and seek comfort in this new reality. Our preserves have seen their own huge influx as traffic doubles and triples daily. Today in a Zoom staff meeting, our field staff shared that people on the trails are universally thankful, so very grateful for our work! This awakening has been remarkable to witness.

Even in these troubled times we see an amazing opportunity, particularly during this holiday weekend, to double down on our message about the important role of nature to provide restitution and hope. For the religious and non-religious alike, this is a time to look deeply at our daily actions and how they intertwine with the world we live in. This could be an opportunity to come together in a new way—to talk about how we can heal the Earth and value its complexity and beauty.

As a land trust, we have an obligation to safeguard our land from the detrimental impact of humans—that part of our mission doesn’t change, even in a pandemic. So this Easter weekend our teams will be out to observe and document our crowds. We will deal with visitors, many from out of state, who seek that solace and healing nature offers. We’ll encounter visitors who are respectful and tread lightly on our earth, and others who are disruptive, leave trash, drive through creeks, and create a wake of destruction behind them – the full spectrum of human behavior.

We firmly believe that being outdoors in nature is an essential, life-giving activity. However, during these dark weeks of the pandemic, when the Governor has asked us all to “Stay at Home”, we do not believe it is an essential activity to drive out of one’s way to reach a preserve.  Our website now carries a message:  “We ask that out-of-state visitors and those who must travel more than 15 minutes to reach a preserve, please stay home. Our Nature Preserves are not parks and therefore have limited parking, narrow trails, no bathrooms, and limited cell phone service.”

In this crisis, we protect our friends and extended family by keeping our distance from them. We only ask the same for our nature preserves – many of which are small remnants of interior forests and rare ecosystems tucked into pristine glens, that desperately need our protection. We know nature is medicine, but overcrowding destroys the very medicine that heals us.

Thank you for listening to our challenges and supporting our preserves.

Phil Wenger, President