A short drive from the hustle and bustle of our state’s capital, a mama black bear and her two cubs are spotted by landowner Rob Fritchey as they roam freely through his woodland property in West Hanover Township. Mr. Fritchey is Manada Conservancy’s newest Partner in Preservation, having signed the conservation easement at the end of September, thus protecting his 36 forest-covered acres in perpetuity.
The Fritchey name might ring a bell as conservation is in this landowner’s bloodline: Rob is a son of late “Doc Fritchey,” a well-known local conservationist who is the namesake of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“My father acquired this land in the 1960s when he learned that Route 81 was going to be built in the front yard of our home in West Hanover,” Rob recalls. “He wanted a Plan B in case the noise from the highway was unbearable. It was, but we stayed put anyway and just used this property for hiking and hunting.”
The Fritchey property is as close to pristine as can be found in the area. It contains a variety of oaks and pine, lush hemlocks (despite the adelgids), and headwaters of the Manada Creek with native brook trout. With only a small rustic cabin existing, the black bears, bobcats, red fox, minks, fishers, porcupines, opossums, and other wildlife are the only living beings allowed to take up permanent residency here, since this piece of land is now restricted from further development.
The Fritchey property lies in Fishing Creek Valley and within the Kittatinny Ridge Corridor, a passage of land that tops the priority lists of many conservation organizations including Audubon Pennsylvania, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, local-level land trusts including Manada Conservancy, and government partners at the federal, state, and county levels.
Known locally as Blue Mountain or First Mountain, the Kittatinny Ridge spans 185 miles from the Mason Dixon Line to the Delaware Water Gap. This key conservation landscape is recognized around the world for its importance as a migration route for songbirds and raptors in addition to a wide range of other wildlife. Because much of the mountain is forested, it is also recognized for its ability to store carbon in the canopy and to be resilient in providing habitat and other ecosystem services in the changing climate.
According to the Kittatinny Coalition website, “Millions of people depend on the clean air and water, timber, and agricultural products produced by the Ridge and its rural corridor. Maintaining clean water, farmland soils, healthy forests, grasslands, and wetlands will build resiliency and enable the region to thrive economically for generations to come.” (For more information, visit www.kittatinnyridge.org.)
Protecting this patch of forest also helps to ensure the scenic view that is characteristic of the valley. The Fritchey property is visible from the Horse-Shoe Trail, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest equestrian trails. (The trail runs northwest from Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia and meets the Appalachian Trail on the top of Stony Mountain.
Proximity to the Fort Indiantown Gap (FIG) military base is another reason for the high prioritization of this property for protection. Manada Conservancy is a partner in the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, an effort to protect land surrounding military bases from further development for the purpose of safeguarding the conditions needed for training operations. Eliminating the risk of tall structures (such as cell phone towers) interfering with flyover training and preserving dark skies needed for nighttime operation are essential to the training operations at the base. The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation (WBWF) is the organization leading the ACUB program around FIG, and Manada Conservancy is the local partner and easement holder for properties protected in Dauphin County.
All conservation easements include restrictions to protect the property’s natural resources as well as to reduce or eliminate subdivision and further development. Properties preserved through the ACUB program have additional height and lighting restrictions.
“It’s great that with this easement we preserved this special spot for its natural value as well as added to the buffer around the Gap, which benefits the military’s protective mission,” said Fritchey. “The Conservancy staff did the heavy lifting to design the easement, making the process easy for me. Working with WBWF was a pleasure, and meeting Mr. Burton himself—a NASCAR champion and land preservation champion—was icing on the cake.”
Manada Conservancy states, “We are grateful for Mr. Fritchey’s commitment to protecting his beautiful property and for continuing his family’s legacy of conservation.”