The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association honored Northampton County with the 2015 Government Conservation Leadership Award for demonstrated leadership in the conservation of our special landscapes and critical natural resources.
Northampton County, with its share of urban, suburban and rural landscapes is located within the Lehigh Valley, the 3rd largest metropolitan area within the Commonwealth. Andy Loza, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association stated, “Northampton County efforts in protecting Pennsylvania’s productive farmland and treasured landscapes shows extraordinary leadership and foresight. On behalf of PALTA’s board of directors and members, I congratulate the county and thank them for their efforts.”
Northampton County is one of Pennsylvania’s most genuinely unique counties in terms of natural resources; four major natural areas exist within the county’s boundaries (the Kittatinny Ridge, PA Highlands, the Lehigh River and the Delaware River) and require vigilance on behalf of the county to ensure their protection. The county has been a leader in expanding and improving open space and recreational opportunities within existing natural and recreational corridors. Through regional cooperation, Northampton County and its municipalities have prioritized safeguarding these lands through preservation, local zoning and planning initiatives and innovative funding strategies.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission expressed their support for Northampton County; Becky Bradley, Executive Director of LVPC said “Northampton County has advanced natural areas conservation; municipal park acquisition, development and maintenance; and farmland preservation through its Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Initiative.
Preservation of lands, both natural areas and farmland, has consistently been a priority for Northampton County. The County’s 21st Century Open Space Initiative began in 2002. In 2006, the County Executive and County Council agreed to impose a ½ mill tax increase to support the program (though procedures and planning efforts date back to the 1960’s). The Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Initiative was established to facilitate the preservation of natural areas and open space lands, farmland preservation and the acquisition, development and rehabilitation of municipal parks.
Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Initiative Accomplishments (since 2002):
- $5.94 million awarded for 56 municipal park projects;
- $4.2 million awarded for the preservation of 1,503 acres of natural areas and open space lands;
- The Farmland Preservation Program has protected 9,480 acres since 2002. A total of 13,869 acres of farmland on 151 farms since 1993.
- 23 miles of open multi-use trail systems, connecting to urban, suburban and rural areas;
- In 2015, the County has committed another $1 million for municipal park acquisition, development and rehabilitation, $750,000 farmland preservation and $400,000 for the preservation of natural areas.
In response to urban growth pressures in the 1980’s, Northampton County began preserving farms in 1993. The Farmland Preservation Program has identified innovative ways for funding and assistance while preserving an outstanding 13,782 acres. In 2010, Northampton County created the first ever Township Partnership Program. This program allows municipalities, with a designated Earned Income Tax (EIT), to dedicate funding to the county specifically for farmland preservation. The Farmland Preservation Program has been the most successful component of the Open Space Initiative.
The program’s success is clearly evident as the list for applications to preserve farmland has been vacated for the past four years, the majority of which have been preserved. In 2012, the program reached its 100th preserved farm and in 2015 reached its 150th preserved farm.
In 2005, Northampton County provided technical assistance to municipalities for the creation of an EIT for the preservation of farmland and natural areas. Since 2005, eight municipalities have voted to create a 0.25% EIT. The efforts of creating this program have led to significant accomplishments, resulting in 3,424 acres of farmland and 2,176 acres of natural areas/open space preserved in perpetuity.
Chris Kocher, President of the Wildlands Conservancy said “the county’s program has been critical to the permanent protection of our most important natural resources and is crucial to the municipalities and nonprofit organizations working to preserve land in Northampton County.
The award was presented Saturday, May 9th in conjunction with the 13th Annual Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Councilman Scott Parsons, Maria Bentzoni, Farmland Preservation Administrator and Bryan Cope, Open Space Coordinator accepted the award on behalf of the County. Thanks to the leadership and commitment of the county and its residents, major natural features will continue to dominate the region.