The Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (CPC) has purchased the historic watercress farm at the bend on South Spring Garden Street just before its intersection with Bonnybrook Road in South Middleton Township, Cumberland County. Bisected by the Letort Nature Trail and serving as its southern trailhead, the former farm will be CPC’s core preserve and the setting for ecological restoration, passive recreation, historic interpretation, and conservation education.

“CPC is proud to announce our acquisition,” said CPC President Ken Waidelich. “The history, the landscape, and the extraordinary conservation value of this property will now be preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the citizens of our community. We heartily thank our county, state, and local leaders for helping to make this a reality.”

“Last week, we closed on the first 30 acres, and we’ll close on the last four acres in May or June of this year,” said CPC Executive Director Anna Yelk. “This was a major fundraising effort that took nearly three years to complete—it’s a special property that the organization sought to protect since 2007. Now that deeds commit the property to permanent protection and the public trust, we’re excited to welcome public access and work toward restoration. The total project cost was $415,000, raised through county and state grants and generous contributions from the township, organizations, families, and businesses.”

A Rich History

The property was first settled around 1720 by James Le Tort, a French-Swiss fur-trader, near a Shawnee village and the intersection of major Native American trading routes. Over a century ago, this east branch of the Letort was known as “Bonny Brook” for its natural beauty.

“How we value spring-fed systems like these has been ever-evolving,” said Ben Mummert, CPC’s director of land protection and stewardship. “In 1891, entrepreneurs saw that watercress, a leafy mustard green, thrived in settings flooded with cold, mineral-rich, spring water. The farm carved 10 acres of wetland into watercress beds and moved the stream into an unstable ditch. Alteration, silt, fertilizer, and pesticide reshaped the Letort here and downstream.”

CPC and partners are working on testing and research for a restoration design.

“This project marks a new chapter,” said Mummert. “The preserve will ameliorate stormwater, provide aesthetic and recreational amenities to benefit property values and public health, and strengthen a renowned trout fishery and associated angling and tourism industries.”

Funding and Community Support

Major grants were awarded by Cumberland County’s Land Partnerships Program ($116,000) and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnerships Program ($207,000).

Closing on the acquisition was made possible by South Middleton Township, the Coldwater Heritage Partnership, Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited, LeTort Trust, the David Masland Memorial Fund, Drew and Kathy Stoken, The Stabler Foundation, Blue Mountain Chapter of Safari Club International, Doc Fritchey Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Molly Pitcher Brewing Company, Union Quarries, and countless other community members.

CPC is grateful for such broad-based community support.

“CPC worked closely with the local community in preserving a very important piece of land that will go a long way in maintaining the water quality in the Letort Spring Run for future generations.” said Carl Goshorn, manager of the Cumberland County Conservation District.

What’s Next?

To celebrate this acquisition, CPC intends to hold a public dedication ceremony in early fall.

CPC has established the Letort Working Group consisting of experts and partners to help guide the restoration process, including wetland scientists, engineers, hydrologists, biologists, state agency officials, attorneys, and representatives of partner organizations. Key partners with overlapping interests in the protection and restoration of the site include South Middleton Township, Letort Regional Authority, Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy-Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the Cumberland County Historical Society.”

CPC must continue raising funds required to steward the property and realize restoration goals. It has published The Letort: A Limestone Legacy, a compilation of personal essays by renowned fly fishermen and local residents who have a shared appreciation for this beloved stream. The book covers efforts to restore the watershed as well as a timeline of events on the Letort Spring Run. Buy the book here.

For more information or to support the project with a charitable donation,  call 717-241-4360 or email [email protected].