The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association is pleased to honor Monroe County for its proactive land protection strategies and commitment to protecting sensitive and scenic areas and critical natural resources with the Government Conservation Leadership Award.

Monroe County remains one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Faced with an exploding population and the promise of another doubling in the next 20 years, citizens have felt the impact of this growth in terms of increased taxes and in the loss of natural and cultural assets, which historically made the county an attractive place to live. These concerns have been the driving efforts articulated in the Monroe 2020 Comprehensive Plan to ensure Monroe County retains its remaining natural amenities while accommodating its growth. It has also heightened the determination of its citizens to preserve, conserve and enhance the county’s resources that continue to provide such a rich quality of life.

The Monroe County Open Space Program is a product of the Monroe 2020 planning process, which led to the passing of a $25 Million Bond Referendum in 1998 and the adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan in 1999.  These events in turn led to the updating of the County Natural Areas Inventory (NAI) in 1999 and the development of a countywide Open Space Plan which was adopted in 2001.  Finally, the County’s Open Space Program provided a financial incentive for each of the 20 municipalities in the County to develop local multi-municipal open space plans and other planning efforts. The net result of this effort is a comprehensive and integrated vision, developed by a truly collaborative and participatory process, of what the county would look like in the future and a road map for achieving this vision.

Monroe County took the best of an existing process with the development of their County Comprehensive Plan and a successful passing of an Open Space Bond referendum and combined it with local input to make it work in their county. Their success was a result of instituting a macro to micro process where the vision was developed at the county level but the final decisions on the implementation of the plan were at the local level, all along the way keeping citizens involved and allowing them to have a voice in the process.  Also of particular note is the county’s achievement in getting all 20 municipalities in the county to participate in one of six regional multi-municipal open space planning efforts. It is quite uncharacteristic and a testament to the program to see such cooperation between municipalities in our Commonwealth.  .

Since 1999, the county has preserved approximately 12,000 acres of open space and 6,000 acres through the agricultural lands preservation program.  These funds have leveraged approximately $75 million in state funding through DCNR.  This number does not include funds leveraged by the individual municipalities which have implemented their own open space funding programs. Recent polling data shows strong support for the continuation of the open space program despite current economic times

“It is so exciting to have strong partners at the local level, actively reinforcing and promoting the protection of their natural resources,” commented Andy Loza, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “On behalf of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and the land conservation community, we thank the elected and appointed officials of Monroe County for their remarkable leadership and commitment to land preservation efforts in Pennsylvania.”

The award was presented Friday, April 9th in conjunction with the 8th Annual Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference.  Accepting the award on behalf of the county are County Commissioner Theresa Merli and Planning Director John Woodling.