On February 22, 2022, ClearWater Conservancy and Patton Township finalized a conservation easement to permanently protect Gray’s Woods Preserve with support from the Hamer Foundation. The 149-acre property was acquired by Patton Township in 2017 through its Open Space program and now the conservation easement will ensure the property is permanently protected and available for public use as an outdoor recreation destination.
“The Township’s Open Space program is a direct result of citizen action encouraging elected officials to act and pledging to support the purchase and maintenance of the Gray’s Woods Preserve and the Haugh Family Preserve,” stated Doug Erickson, Patton Township Manager. “These lands will provide, in perpetuity, a wide range of recreational benefits to users as well as protected habitats for wildlife and native plants.
Gray’s Woods Preserve is located within a PA Natural Heritage Inventory Core Area, known as the Barrens Biological Diversity Area, where sensitive habitat supports rare plant and animal species. The easement will also protect a large groundwater recharge area below the land that contributes to the region’s drinking water supplies and supports some of the best trout fishing in the country as it flows toward Spring Creek.
Trails through Gray’s Woods Preserve cover a wide variety of terrain and rare natural features. The preserve connects to Gray’s Woods Park and State Game Lands 176, commonly referred to as the Scotia Barrens. The Barrens are historically significant because of the iron ore mining town once there, and ecologically significant because the largest remaining patch of pitch pine-scrub oak barrens habitat in Pennsylvania are located there.
“ClearWater has been working on efforts to connect and protect important habitat in the Scotia Barrens region for over a decade,” said Deb Nardone, executive director of ClearWater. “Patton Township took an important step forward by permanently protecting these lands. This region is a one-of-a-kind gem, treasured by hikers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts alike. We’re thrilled that Patton Township will make this place accessible for the public to visit and enjoy forever.”
The conservation of Gray’s Woods Preserve is a recent success in one of ClearWater’s large-scale conservation efforts called the Scotia Barrens to Ridgelines Initiative (SBRI). The initiative’s focus is to connect vital landscapes and protect the groundwater below them. Last February, ClearWater bolstered this initiative by conserving 1,271 acres of ecologically sensitive land in Warriors Mark that was added to Rothrock State Forest.
“A significant part of what we fund at the Hamer Foundation funds is land and water protection. The effort to protect the Grays Woods Preserve is something that current Foundation board members have been involved with for many years through our association with Clearwater Conservancy,” stated Pat Morse, Hamer Foundation board member. “We are grateful to all those who have helped along the way over many years to ensure this property is always conserved and open to the public.”
Gray’s Woods Preserve is under management of Patton Township and open to the public all year. As a next step in the conservation project, the township will conduct a forest management plan in concert with Woods and Waters Consulting.
Visitors can access the preserve via Gray’s Woods Blvd. in Patton Township. Parking is available in the lot for Gray’s Woods Park, and from there a relatively flat trail to Gray’s Woods Preserve can be accessed. The Purple Lizard Scotia Map contains specific details of the history and trail system in this area.