Photo by Kelly Snavely for Lancaster Conservancy.

Lancaster Conservancy announced plans to acquire over 300 beautiful and forested acres along the Susquehanna River in York County, protecting old growth forests, important plants and wildlife, and outlooks with stunning views.

The area is historically known as Roundtop. It is located north of Wrightsville and the Route 30 bridge and is adjacent to the Conservancy’s Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve in the Hellam Hills Conservation Area.

The Hellam Hills Conservation Area runs from just north of Wrightsville to the Codorus Creek and is the largest contiguous forest in the triangle between the cities of York, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. The conservation area currently includes the Conservancy’s Hellam Hills and Wizard Ranch nature preserves, as well the new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park that the Conservancy helped protect in 2022 – a total of over 2,000 acres of contiguous forests, which will expand to almost 2,500 acres with the addition of Roundtop.

Acquiring the highly visible Roundtop has been an important land protection target for Lancaster Conservancy and its partners since the first tract of Hellam Hills Nature Preserve was acquired in 2016. Protecting this land is critical for the health of waterways like the Susquehanna River and a local stream that provides habitat for native fish, plants, and other animals. Conserving the forested lands at Roundtop means preserving riparian buffers that provide natural pollutant filtration and prevent erosion during major flood events along these waterways.

In addition to the essential natural benefits of protecting Roundtop, the property will protect impressive vistas on both the York and Lancaster county sides of the Susquehanna River and will serve as a link to a continuing landscape of protected lands and trails for hikers. The popular Mason-Dixon Trail runs parallel to the Roundtop property, and hikers can cross the nearby Wrightsville Bridge to reach the Northwest River Trail.

“Roundtop is a critical connector piece for both wildlife and humans within the Hellam Hills landscape of the Lower Susquehanna,” said Kate Gonick, Senior Vice President of Land Protection and General Counsel for Lancaster Conservancy.

One of the parcels to be acquired at Roundtop is part of the estate of June and Warren Evans, local leaders who were admired in the region for their commitment to the protection of natural and cultural resources. Their family continues that commitment by working with the Conservancy to ensure their legacy is shared with the public. The Evans lands include 52 acres of old-growth forests with rocky overlooks in Hellam Township.

The cost of the lands to be acquired exceeds $4 million. The Conservancy anticipates raising the necessary funds to purchase the involved properties over the next year through grants and private donations, with settlements to occur in 2024. The Conservancy has already received generous commitments from the Powder Mill Foundation and a York County Open Space and Land Preservation Grant providing more than $687,000 toward this project.

“As the Conservancy protects and restores the York Susquehanna Riverlands, we are protecting this amazing river gorge forever,” said Conservancy President and CEO Phil Wenger. “We are excited to invite major York donors to invest in this landscape to match our public grants and save these amazing forests.”

Until the Conservancy has fully acquired Roundtop, this property is not open to the public.

The Lancaster Conservancy is an accredited nonprofit land trust which, since its founding in 1969, has helped protect over 10,000 acres of natural land and owns 50 nature preserves for the public to hike and enjoy 365 days per year.

The Conservancy’s efforts in York County are centered around the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, a landscape designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources which consists of lands that fall within the York and Lancaster county municipalities that border the river. These critical forests along the Susquehanna River are in an area rich with history and natural resources including waterfalls, glens, and rocky cliffs. The Conservancy has protected over 3,000 acres of land along the Susquehanna in York County.

Photo by Avery Van Etten for Lancaster Conservancy.