This past Wednesday, September 30th, 2020, Berks Nature closed on a conservation easement project in the Schuylkill River Watershed, Kittatinny Ridge and Corridor, Hamburg Borough, Windsor Township. Berks Nature protected 109.28 acres of land owned by the Olivet Blue Mountain Camp. Known locally as the Blue Mountain, the Kittatinny Ridge stretches across the state of Pennsylvania. Berks Nature is a member of the Kittatinny Ridge Coalition, and we partner with the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts to work towards conservation with landowners, community organizations, and municipalities all along the Mountain in both Berks and Schuylkill Counties.

There are numerous benefits of this project including protection of forested land, water quality, wildlife habitat, climate change adaption and mitigation, environmental education, and regional trails:

Olivet Blue Mountain Camp property includes forested wetlands which develop into streams and flow directly into the Schuylkill River. Maintaining this forest cover provides source-water protection benefits to the hundreds of people locally who depend on the underground drinking water that comes from the ridge, and for 1.5 million people downstream who depend on the Schuylkill River for drinking water.

The Kittatinny Ridge was named an Important Bird Area, and according to the Kittatinny Ridge Conservation Plan, “the Kittatinny Ridge is recognized as a “globally significant” migration flyway in spring and fall. This 150 mile-long ridge concentrates 14,000 to 20,000 migrating raptors from August through December each year along its entire length.” This project provides the benefit of protecting this contiguous forest for migrating raptors as well as songbirds who utilize the ridge for breeding and nesting. By “contiguous forest,” we mean interior forest that isn’t fragmented by fields, roads, utility corridors, subdivisions, or many buildings. Forest connectivity is critically important for wildlife populations to stay connected with each other, and the Olivet Blue Mountain camp provides habitat for sensitive species that will only breed in large tracts of interior forest.

The Camp plans to retain private ownership of their outdoor-recreation focused property, while permanently protecting forested watershed and wildlife habitat with the establishment of the conservation easement held by Berks Nature. Additionally, the easement protects the publicly-accessible Blue Blaze Trail to the Appalachian Trail. *NOTE – The property is not yet ready for public access due to parking restrictions. Please ‘like’ Berks Nature and Olivet’s on Facebook for the most up-to-date information on when it will be ready.

This property is also in close proximity to Hamburg’s Richard Etchberger Trail, as well as regional trails like the Schuylkill River Trail, and the Schuylkill Water Trail. The property has been a gateway to the Blue Mountain for many generations: the Blue Blaze trail to the Appalachian Trail dates back to the days of the creation of the Appalachian Trail itself. The property also has a long history of use by youth camps. Formerly owned by the YWCA, the property has been owned and managed for the Olivet Boys and Girls Club since the 1990s. Young people access the camp for summer camp and outdoor recreation…..(ask Chris winters for input).

“An important contribution of the property for conservation efforts is its diverse range of habitat within the forested area of the Kittatinny Ridge, including wetlands and rocky outcrops. Additionally, protecting contiguous forest that spans a range of elevation along the  Appalachian Ridge is urgently required for climate adaptation, and the Olivet Camp property meets this need,” stated Kim Murphy, President of Berks Nature, “I am proud of how hard our staff has worked on this special project and grateful and proud to work with our partners at Olivet Boys and Girls Club to permanently protect this important property.”

Olivet Blue Mountain Camp donated part of the value of the conservation easement. The conservation easement was also established with financial assistance from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy. The project has been funded in part by Exelon Corp. through the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund and the Delaware River Basin Commission. We thank our partner in the project, the Kittatinny Ridge Land Protection Collaborative for helping make this conservation easement achievable.