A conservation mission nearly 15 years in the making passed a major milestone at the end of September. Working with Berks Nature and with funding provided by WeConservePA, Martha and Richard Coyle of Berks County voluntarily amended and restated a conservation easement on the entirety of their 94.52-acre farm.
In 2007, the Coyles first established an easement on 29.5 acres of their property, but always dreamt of ultimately protecting the entire farm. In the interim, out of their deep respect and love for the land, the Coyles enrolled the farm in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
While the soils underlying the Coyle’s farm are considered marginal by agricultural standards, the land plays an important ecological role in the watershed: an unnamed tributary of the Schuylkill River originates on the property. Consequently, the surrounding riparian area not only exerts influence on the health of this waterway, a source of drinking water for people living downstream, but also provides valuable habitat for wildlife.
Instead of actively farming this sensitive land, the Coyles have cultivated a native grassland and planted a streamside forest to buffer the small tributary, which supports native wildlife, reduces erosion, and improves the resiliency of the entire watershed. Through CREP, the Coyles receive annual compensation for stewarding this land as natural habitat.
For Martha Coyle, who was raised on the property, the stewardship and conservation of the farm is an act of appreciation and responsibility; appreciation of her family who worked against all odds to earn full ownership of the property and responsibility to live the legacy of her family’s stewardship.
Still, the impact of this conservation action will be felt well beyond the boundaries of the Coyle’s farm. The Coyle property is part of the Hopewell Big Woods, one of the most important natural landscapes in the region known for its vast expanse of unbroken forest, pristine, Exceptional Value streams, and scenic viewsheds.
Regionally, the Hopewell Big Woods is encompassed by the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape, home to the largest stretch of contiguous forest between Washington, D.C. and New York City and federally acclaimed as nationally significant by Congress through The Highlands Conservation Act.
Achieving full protection of this property – its heritage and ecological role in the greater watershed and landscape – is a fitting and well-deserved reward for these patient stewards of conservation.