On November 10, Natural Lands Trust announced the addition of 153 acres to the already expansive Bear Creek Preserve in Luzerne County. The acquisition of adjacent land located along the Francis E. Walter Dam Reservoir increases the size of the preserve to 3,565 acres, and will provide direct access to the reservoir for fishing and boating.

The land, purchased from landholder Blue Ridge Real Estate Company on November 7, was a conservation priority because it serves as a buffer for the reservoir, naturally filtering pollutants to protect the water quality of the Lehigh River downstream. The Lehigh River is part of the massive Delaware River watershed, which supplies water to some 22 million people–about 10 percent of the nation’s population.blue-ridge-parcel-by-joe-vinton-courtesy-of-nlt

The newly acquired acreage also offers opportunity for an expansion of Bear Creek Preserve’s existing 31 miles of hiking trails as well as connection to a larger trail network within the 1,800-acre Francis E. Walter Dam area. Working in partnership with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Natural Lands Trust also plans to take advantage of the land’s proximity to the reservoir and install an additional boat launch for canoeists and kayakers.

“Our nature preserves are an essential part of our conservation work because they allow us to foster connections between people and nature,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “This addition will allow us to do just that by welcoming thousands of hikers, boaters, fisherman, and others.”

Another potential beneficiary of this conservation effort is a small bat known as they eastern small-footed myotis, which is a threatened species in Pennsylvania. This tiny bat–among the smallest in North America–is in decline due to habitat loss and white-nose syndrome. The species thrives in expansive forested areas like Bear Creek Preserve. Since 90 percent of their preferred habitat is on private land, protecting them is challenging, which makes this addition to the preserve even more significant.

The Open Spaimage0011ce Institute (OSI) provided funding for the project through its Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, capitalized by the William Penn Foundation. Through the Fund, OSI seeks to protect water quality in the Delaware River Basin. The Bear Creek Preserve addition will protect two tributaries to Bear Creek that are state-classified High Quality Cold Water Fisheries streams The protected creek also reduces flooding as it flows downstream into the Lehigh River.

“Saving forested land is critical for drinking water protection throughout the Delaware River Watershed,” said Peter Howell, OSI executive vice president. “Clean water is also instrumental in supporting healthy communities and wildlife. OSI congratulates Natural Lands Trust o completion of this critical project.”

Natural Lands Trust also received funding for this acquisition from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and direct funding from the William Penn Foundation.

“The value of DCNR’s long-time partnerships with Natural Lands Trust and other conservancies is accentuated in this acquisition and addition to Bear Creek Preserve,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “With this acreage comes invaluable watershed and wildlife habitat protection, and improved access to visitors who will appreciate it for generations to come.”

“Over the years, Blue Ridge Real Estate Company has worked with several conservation organizations and state government to provide thousands of acres of land for recreational opportunities and enjoyment,” said Craig Harahus, land manager with Blue Ridge Real Estate Company, which sold the 153 acres to Natural Lands Trust. “We are pleased this tract of land, with its exceptional qualities, will be enjoyed by the public forever.”

Natural Lands Trust anticipates it will open the new addition to visitors when funds become available to create parking facilities.