Natural Lands has added nearly 26 acres of forest to French Creek State Park. The properties were at high risk of development—which would have removed intact forest habitat required by migratory songbirds and other wildlife. Loss of this wooded open space would have also meant the loss of natural services like erosion control, flood prevention, and carbon sequestration. The additions, which will be open to park visitors, bring French Creek State Park’s holdings to 7,977 acres.
“The pandemic brought many of us closer to nature—we turned to the outdoors for exercise and relaxation,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “Our region is fortunate to have places like French Creek State Park for hiking, bird watching, and quiet contemplation. And now the park is larger than ever.”
He added, “Open spaces are essential to the well-being recreation brings, but also for the natural services they provide every day, free of charge. They help clean our air and water, reduce flooding from storms, and cool our planet.”
The first property Natural Lands purchased and transferred to the state park was the 10.6-acre Yocom property. Just a few weeks later, Natural Lands added a second parcel, the 15-acre Metka property. Both are immediately adjacent to French Creek State Park’s northern border and located in Union Township, Berks County.
The forested properties are in a region known as the Hopewell Big Woods—the largest block of unbroken forest between New York and Washington, D.C.. Natural Lands and more than 50 private and public partners have focused on conservation in this region over the past two decades. The properties are also within the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape, an area designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as a priority for land and water conservation, outdoor recreation, and compatible economic development.
Ironically, the proximity of these two properties to French Creek State Park made them even more vulnerable to development. Houses in southern Berks County within a quarter mile of the Hopewell Big Woods have an added average value of $8,270 based solely on their location. Simply put, builders are eager to purchase and develop land near open space because they’ll make more money.
Said the Metka family, “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Natural Lands. This property has been in our family for more than 100 years. Knowing that this tract of land will be preserved forever, and hopefully enjoyed by many, is a great feeling!”
These land purchases are among a dozen that Natural Lands has facilitated for French Creek State Park. To date, the organization has worked with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to add 386 acres to the park.
“The additional 26 acres that will be added to French Creek State Park will help preserve critical habitats and additional space for park visitors to enjoy,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “A key part of DCNR’s mission is expanding recreation opportunities for all Pennsylvanians and we are grateful for Natural Lands consistent work to support conservation efforts, specifically through land acquisitions of this type. We also want to thank the families that worked with Natural Lands on these land transfers.”
The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s forests are privately owned and unprotected, putting them at risk for development.
“We are pleased to have support from all who made this acquisition possible,” Bureau of State Parks Director John Hallas said. “Preserving and expanding recreation opportunities at one of our beautiful state parks is always a positive, especially when we’re able to protect forest habitats and the benefits they provide. I look forward to seeing the impact of this important addition to our natural lands.”
PA DCNR’s Environmental Stewardship and Watershed Protection Act provided financial support for these projects. Additional support came from the Highlands Conservation Act and William Penn Foundation.