The Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy announced on September 8, 2020 that it is preparing a major expansion of the Cove Mountain preserve, which will create a 14-mile stretch of protected land along the Kittatinny Ridge. This purchase will expand the size of the preserve from 353 to 1411 acres, connecting the existing Cove Mountain preserve trails to Pennsylvania state game lands.
The property has been managed for timber production for the last 60 years. The Nature Conservancy will manage the property in support of forest health, climate resilience and wildlife habitat, and it will eventually be open for public recreation.
“The Nature Conservancy has been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect a critical piece of property along the Kittatinny Ridge and help ensure these forests will remain connected and healthy into the future,” said Lori Brennan, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania and Delaware. “The protection of this land will also help to protect irreplaceable habitat for wildlife, clean water flowing into the Susquehanna River, and the beauty of this iconic Pennsylvanian landscape that attracts tourists from all over the country.”
The Kittatinny Ridge is among the most important natural landscapes in the mid-Atlantic region, 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.
“We’re thrilled to see this project becoming reality,” said Michelle Jones, Program Director for the Perry County Economic Development Authority. “Access to outdoor recreation is so important to us, not only for the intrinsic value of the great outdoors, but also for the economic impact to our communities. Our downtowns are gateways to these access points and the additional opportunities for both local and visitor traffic will make a significant difference for our restaurants, coffee shops and stores.”
The new trails will connect with existing trails on Pennsylvania game lands, which in turn connect with the Appalachian Trail and the town of Duncannon. This expansion 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 AT.“The Nature Conservancy’s Cove Mountain Preserve expansion is an iconic land conservation project critical to linking the Kittatinny Ridge and Appalachian Trail landscapes,” said Dennis Shaffer, Director of Landscape Conservation at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “This is a tremendous opportunity to preserve a variety of critical natural resources while also increasing outdoor recreation opportunities in an area that is near major population centers.”
The Conservancy expects to close on the property later this year, after raising the final funds to cover the purchase cost. Further information on the existing Cove Mountain Preserve can be found at nature.org/covemountain.