Natural Lands announced that it has added nearly 70 acres of land to the PA Bureau of Forestry’s holdings in Berks County. The land is among more than 660 acres the regional land conservation nonprofit has added to the state forest system’s holdings to date. Once at risk of development, this land will now forever remain open space and accessible to visitors for recreation.
“In addition to adding valuable recreation opportunities, these tracts of land are key in connecting our trails and protecting our woodland habitats,” said State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger. “The addition of these lands will pay dividends for generations. Conserving tracts of forest in this region of the state is critical in reaching that goal.”
The first property is the 15.5-acre Bucci parcel, which Natural Lands purchased last month and immediately transferred to the Bureau of Forestry for addition to the Gibraltar State Forest. Located in Robeson Township, the land provides direct access to the Thun section of the Schuylkill River Trail and protects the scenic views trail users enjoy. The Schuylkill River Trail is a multi-use path that will eventually extend 120 miles from Frackville in Schuylkill County all the way to Philadelphia. Currently, more than 75 miles of the trail are open to the public for hiking, bicycling, dog walking, running, and bird watching.
Said James M. Bucci, “The land has been in our family for more than 50 years. I have fond memories of hiking Gibraltar Hill with my father when I was a teenager and, later, of hunting for morel mushrooms with my son.” He added, “We are proud and happy that Natural Lands has given us the opportunity to contribute to the efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the area for future generations.”
The second property is the 56-acre White Acres parcel, located in Heidelberg and South Heidelberg Townships. The property was added earlier this month to the PA Bureau of Forestry’s George Wertz State Forest, which provides important densely wooded habitat for wildlife, including several species of migratory songbirds whose populations are in decline globally. The land is now available to the public for recreation, including hiking, camping, bird watching, and hunting.
“Our property has been in our family for three generations. We are thankful for the blessings of living in a beautiful place,” said Jim White. “As we pass along the forest land to Natural Lands and the Bureau of Forestry, we are thankful that it will stay in its natural state for generations to come.”
Both properties boast mature woodlands, which help to absorb and filter rainwater. This ensures clean water for the millions of people who use it downstream, slows stormwater, and reduces flooding. The trees are also nature’s carbon capture, helping to mitigate the effects of a warming climate.
“There’s never been a time where protected open space has been more important,” said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass. “Visitation to our region’s parks, preserves, and trail systems has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people look for safe opportunities for recreation and stress relief. Add to that the pivotal point to which we’ve all arrived in the climate crisis… investing in open space is an investment in our quality of life, our health, and our future.”
Without protection, those views and the beautiful woodland habitat could have been lost to development. A two-year conservation effort, led by Natural Lands and the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), brought together federal and state funds to acquire the properties as additions to the state forest system.
“This acquisition is yet another example of partnerships working to help protect vital undeveloped lands in the commonwealth,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “We are grateful to the Natural Lands for their continued dedication to preserving and nurturing the outdoors in the most populated region of Pennsylvania, especially as we continue to push to expand recreation opportunities to better reach our residents.”
The federal Highlands Conservation Act, a fund established to protect an almost unbroken band of forested hills running through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—including this portion of Berks County—provided leadership funding for the preservation of both the Bucci property and the White tract.
The Bucci property and the White tract lie within the Schuylkill Highlands, a DCNR-designated region at the nexus of two landscapes that have been prioritized for protection: the Highlands and the Schuylkill River Watershed.
Funding for preservation of these two properties was provided by the U.S. Forest Service through the Highlands Conservation Act and the Pennsylvania DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnership Program.