This past fall, Berks Nature closed on a conservation easement project in the Oley Hills in District Township, Berks County. Christina Smith protected her 70.14 acre property which includes forest, active agricultural lands, and wetlands in the watershed of the West Branch of the Perkiomen Creek. Ms. Smith donated the value of the easement, and additional funds for the project came from the Pine Creek Watershed Association, the WeConservePA Conservation Easement Assistance Program, and the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund.

The forested land in District, Pike and Rockland Townships, what is referred to as Oley Hills, is one of the largest intact forested areas in Berks County (27,144 acres). The Oley Hills are located in the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape. This area is a State of Pennsylvania priority, and is also federally designated with importance by the Highlands Conservation Act. In addition, the PA Natural Heritage Program, which inventories natural communities and species of concern, lists 18 occurrences in the Oley Hills, which makes it the most biologically diverse area in Berks County. Much of this wildlife habitat exists across privately owned forests and farmlands.

Christina Smith, the easement landowner, shared “My parents bought this property in 1956, and they’ve always wanted it to be kept as a farm property, and our family wanted it to be here for the wildlife. That’s the same reason I put into an easement with Berks Nature this year. When Mr. Lloyd came to see me and explained the easement process, I just knew my wishes would be carried out. I am very much into this land always being an open space for nature.”

According to WeConservePA, “a conservation easement limits certain uses of the land in order to advance one or more conservation objectives while keeping the land in the owner’s control. It is established by mutual agreement of a landowner and a private land trust or government.”

The Oley Hills serve as home to six pristine watersheds that have received state-wide recognition as ‘Exceptional Value’, the highest water quality designation awarded in Pennsylvania. The protection of these six watersheds represents nearly half of the exceptional value watersheds in the entire Schuylkill River Watershed. Berks Nature attributes this high water quality to the fact that this land is undeveloped, and it is a goal to maintain this status by permanently protecting the land with conservation easements, municipal outreach, and best management practices for land and water.

“Protecting forested watersheds is an investment in drinking water security, and the Smith property contributes to advancing this goal,” explains Berks Nature president Kim Murphy. “Located in the watershed of the West Branch of the Perkiomen Creek, the Smith property protects land upstream of the AQUA PA Green Lane Reservoir in Montgomery County.”