Natural Lands announced today the permanent preservation of 392 acres of vulnerable open space in Elizabeth Township, Lancaster County. Natural Lands purchased the property, part of the J. Edward Mack Scout Reservation, from the Boy Scouts of America’s Pennsylvania Dutch Council and transferred ownership to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The open space protected as a result is an important connection between state-owned lands in that region, creating a nearly 12,000-acre area of contiguous forest. Connected woodlands provide essential habitat for wildlife including several species of migratory songbirds that are in decline.
“The pandemic really brought into sharp focus the importance of protected open space as people have flocked to the outdoors for exercise, relaxation, and comfort,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “It’s not every day we get to be a part of the permanent conservation of nearly 400 acres of high-quality forest. We are honored to be a part of Camp Mack’s future as protected open space. Former campers will be able bring their children and grandchildren back to the same place where they fell in love with nature.”
The J. Edward Mack Scout Reservation originated through the efforts of Lancaster businessman J. Edward Mack, himself a former Boy Scout, in the late 1960s. With the national decline in campers, many Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps have been selling land in recent years. “If Natural Lands hadn’t been able to protect this land, it would have almost surely been bought by a residential developer,” said Jack Stefferud, Natural Lands’ Senior Director of Lands Protection. “That would have meant a devastating loss of wildlife habitat, ecological resources, and public access.” Stefferud has been working for three years to preserve Camp Mack. He notes that the Boy Scout’s Pennsylvania Dutch Council will retain nearly 600 acres of land near Brickerville that includes all campsites, a swimming pool, dining hall, and other buildings.
The property includes approximately one mile of the Horse-Shoe Trail, which stretches 140 miles from Valley Forge National Historical Park to the Appalachian Trail northeast of Harrisburg.
The preserved tract also has three small streams that flow to Furnace Run and Hammer Creek. These are both recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for their high-quality water and home to both migratory and cold-water fish species. These streams feed the Conestoga River, which supplies drinking water to the City of Lancaster. The Conestoga suffers from pollution largely due to runoff from animal waste and excess fertilizer from the agricultural areas along much of its path. Forested land like the Camp Mack property, on the other hand, helps filter out contaminants as rainwater drains into the streams. The tree roots help water soak into the ground, recharging groundwater supplies. They also reduce erosion and slow stormwater to reduce flooding.
The property is a wooded refuge for songbirds like Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, and several species of warblers that spend winters in warmer climes but rely on large, connected forests in our region as their breeding grounds. Many of these migrant species have declined because the woods they rely on for food and shelter are disappearing or being subdivided. Forests that are fragmented into smaller plots by roads and developments favor predators that thrive along the edge of the woods, such as raccoons, snakes, Blue Jays, domestic cats, and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
“The Game Commission is always looking to provide additional, convenient public hunting opportunities, especially in highly populated areas,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “In this case, a strong partnership with Natural Lands not only added almost 400 acres of public hunting land in Lancaster County, but the acquired tract also connects two different state game lands—State Game Lands 46 and 156—meaning hunters now have unfettered access to nearly 12,000 contiguous acres, all of which will be managed to benefit wildlife. It’s just another example of the incredible results partnerships can achieve.”
Camp Mack is among nearly 9,000 acres of former Boy and Girl Scouts land that Natural Lands has helped to preserve over the years.
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—provided funding for this preservation project. Additional support came from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnership Program and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“We are always happy to support the Natural Lands in its efforts to conserve vulnerable spaces across Pennsylvania, and this acquisition is no exception,” said PA DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “We were able to help preserve public access to the Horse-Shoe Trail and ensure valuable forestlands and wildlife habitats remain untouched. Both goals are critical to DCNR’s goals of ensuring there is a trail within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian and helping address climate change through conservation of our natural spaces.”