The Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy announced that it has closed on a land deal to expand its existing Cove Mountain preserve, which now creates a 14-mile stretch of protected land along the Kittatinny Ridge.  This purchase expands the size of the preserve from 353 to 1,411 acres and connects it to Pennsylvania state game lands. Approximately 213 additional acres will be transferred to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of generous donors and partners, we are not only protecting Cove Mountain—we are stitching together a climate-resilient corridor in Pennsylvania’s Kittatinny Ridge. This network of protected habitat will help nature migrate and persevere in the face of climate change,” said Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Projects like this exemplify the cutting-edge science and impactful conservation efforts needed to protect nature today and into the future.”

The Nature Conservancy will now enter into an inclusive planning process for the expanded preserve.  The property had been managed for timber production for the last 60 years but will undergo a comprehensive forest assessment to determine management needs focused on conditions such as forest health, climate resilience and wildlife habitat.  A separate plan will also be developed for expanding recreational opportunities that will directly engage the local community to address issues like access points and infrastructure needs.

“In expanding our Cove Mountain preserve, we’ve helped to ensure this chain of forests along Pennsylvania’s Kittatinny Ridge will remain connected, healthy, and more climate resilient into the future,” said Lori Brennan, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania and Delaware. “It’s an incredible opportunity to simultaneously protect critical wildlife habitat, clean water for the Susquehanna River, and an iconic Pennsylvania viewshed while expanding local recreation and tourism opportunities just outside of Harrisburg.  This is all thanks to critical support we have received from our generous donors and partners like the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Perry County.”

The Kittatinny Ridge is among the most important natural landscapes in the United States, providing a critical corridor of forests for migratory birds and birds-of-prey, and has been designated a Conservation Landscape by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  As temperatures rise due to climate change, this protected corridor will become even more important for both plant and animal species that need to move further north or to higher elevations to survive.   That includes species like black bear, bobcat, and fisher, which need large regions of unfragmented forest to provide habitat.  The preserve is also home to the Allegheny Woodrat, which is threatened in Pennsylvania.

Protected lands providing outdoor recreation opportunities like the Cove Mountain Preserve are also critical to the local economy, as they help to bring in tourist dollars.  A 2019 report found that outdoor recreation brought nearly $60 million in annual revenue to Perry County, and that demand was outpacing the ability of local businesses to meet it.   The expanded preserve will provide new opportunities for hiking, hunting, birding, and other activities, and will also protect the southern viewshed from Peters Mountain; a view that’s particularly popular with both local hikers and through hikers traveling along the Appalachian Trail.