On February 15, the Nature Conservancy announced the acquisition of a 353-acre parcel near Marysville in Perry County, located just minutes from the state capital in Harrisburg. This property will become the Conservancy’s first nature preserve in central Pennsylvania along the Kittatinny Ridge.

Photo: Shawn Hickey

The Conservancy acquired the property with a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, along with funds raised from generous donors as part of a coordinated effort to permanently protect more land on the Kittatinny Ridge. Long recognized as one of the Commonwealth’s most treasured landscapes, the Kittatinny’s forested ridgetops serve as one of the most important wildlife corridors within the northeastern U.S.—stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the south to the Catskill Mountains in the north.

“We are confident that this new nature preserve will benefit Central Pennsylvania in many ways, especially getting people outdoors,” said Josh Parrish, director of the Conservancy’s Working Woodlands Program in Pennsylvania. “We’ve found that the biggest challenge to promoting a love of nature is getting people outside. The proximity to Harrisburg makes this project—which serves as our flagship nature preserve on the Kittatinny Ridge—a great location for encouraging people to make that long-lasting connection.”

The Conservancy is now developing a management plan for supporting native forest and wildlife, including migrating raptors and songbirds, and the endangered Allegheny Woodrat. The Conservancy intends to transform a network of former logging roads into hiking trails that will provide public access to scenic views of the Susquehanna River and the Rockville Bridge—a railroad bridge built in 1902 and the longest of its kind in the world. The Conservancy will open the property to public hunting through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Public Access Cooperator Program and Deer Management Assistance Program.

Expected to open to the public later in 2017, the Cove Mountain Nature Preserve will showcase efforts by the Kittatinny Ridge Coalition to safeguard the surrounding landscape. The Conservancy is also partnering with a local church to provide parking, picnic, and outdoor classroom areas.

“It is with great joy that all of us here receive the news of The Nature Conservancy’s acquisition of the parcel adjacent to our church,” said Howard Woodruff, Pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church. “Being located at the top of the mountain, we find ourselves situated in the most beautiful location. With news that the land next to the church will now be protected and developed into space that all people can share and enjoy serves to underscore the appreciation and marvel that comes from immersing ourselves in God’s creation: nature.”

In addition to its location along the Kittatinny Ridge, the property falls within the Susquehanna Water Gaps, one of 28 National Natural Landmarks in Pennsylvania recognized by National Park Service, and is part of the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area, the Middle Susquehanna River Water Trail, and the Susquehanna Birding and Wildlife Trail. It has also been identified as a conservation priority by the Perry County Greenway Plan.

“The Appalachian Trail rides the spine of the Kittatinny Ridge from Duncannon to the Delaware Water Gap – nearly three quarters of the Trail length in the state and a platform for providing some of the most scenic vistas in all of Pennsylvania,” said Ron Tipton, president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “Through the ATC’s active participation with Audubon Pennsylvania, the lead organization for the Kittatinny Ridge Coalition, this parcel will help to further protect the large landscape of the iconic Kittatinny Ridge.”

Additionally, the forested slopes of the Cove Mountain property play a role in recharging private and public water supplies and contain seeps, springs, and an unnamed tributary of the Susquehanna River that contribute to water quality locally, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

“We congratulate our partners at The Nature Conservancy for a major accomplishment in protecting the Kittatinny Ridge and the Susquehanna Water Gap,” said Anna Yelk, Executive Director at the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy. “Current and future generations may now benefit from unspoiled forested ridgeline views of Cove Mountain, a healthy and sustainable water supply, and a publicly accessible wildlife area in close range of urban/suburban centers for hiking and birding. We look forward to partnering further to continue similar protections of the Susquehanna Water Gap and the Kittatinny Ridge.”

It is for these reasons that the Conservancy and partners identified property as a high priority for acquisition.

“Although Central Pennsylvania boasts plentiful natural areas, these places—especially along our ridgetops—remain relatively unprotected,” said Bill Kunze, executive director of the Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “As development extends outward from Harrisburg, nearby mountain slopes are faced with increased pressure.”

The Conservancy also hopes that local businesses in Marysville and along US-11 realize economic benefits as a result of this new outdoor recreation destination.

“Development can be good, but all growth does not have to come in the form of housing,” says Scott Weaver, borough manager in Marysville. “Growing our natural areas–places our residents can enjoy–can be more valuable than taking away the nature.”

In fact, numerous studies by the Trust for Public Land and others have shown that residential and commercial property values increase in communities in proximity to both urban areas and large open spaces for recreation.

“The property at Cove Mountain was identified as a priority because it is large, unprotected and located in close proximity to existing conservation lands,” added Kunze. “Protecting it forever will benefit water and air quality, native wildlife, local communities and Pennsylvanians seeking opportunities to connect with nature.”