The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association honored Union County with the 2017 Government Conservation Leadership Award for demonstrated leadership in the conservation of our special landscapes and critical natural resources.

Union County has provided leadership, support, and guidance for numerous conservation and restoration projects and has served as a true partner to the conservation organizations working within the county.L

From left to right: Andy Loza, PALTA executive director; Susan Warner Mills, Merill Linn Land and Waterways Conservancy president; Union County Commissioner John Showers; Union County Conservation District Manager Bill Deitrick; Geoff Goodenow, coordinator for Merrill Linn Land and Waterways Conservancy; Jeff Marshall, PALTA president

The support and expertise of Union County’s Planning Commission staff proved instrumental in numerous conservation projects. Most significant was the acquisition of the roughly 36-acre McGinnis property and the 80-acre Rozyckie property adjacent to Shikellamy State Park. Both parcels were ultimately transferred to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as additions to Shikellamy State Park. Planning Commission staff prepared two successful grant applications on behalf of Merrill W. Linn Conservancy, which funded the McGinnis parcel purchase and played a key role in facilitating the Rozyckie property purchase.

The McGinnis purchase could have fallen through if Commission staff hadn’t taken the lead role in helping the Conservancy secure the necessary funding to complete the purchase. Staff’s experience in managing the grant writing process on behalf of the Conservancy was invaluable.

In spite of the loss of substantial property tax revenue to the township and county, commissioners supported and financially backed these two acquisitions. Commissioner John Showers hosted a fundraising event at his home to help the Conservancy secure donations to facilitate the acquisition and also stepped up with short-term personal financial resources to purchase the Rozyckie property.

The close working relationship between the Union County Conservation District (UCCD), the Buffalo Creek Watershed Alliance (BCWA), and the Conservancy resulted in numerous conservation projects throughout the county. These efforts included the acid remediation site on the upper reach of Buffalo Creek, streamside buffer and restoration of Buffalo Creek and its tributaries (e.g., Conley Run), and nutrient retention ponds at Ard’s Farm. UCCD’s stream restoration activities have received due recognition, including the 2014 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for the Northcentral Stream Restoration Project.

Union County established its Agricultural Land Preservation Program in 1989, providing ongoing support of the agricultural industry by protecting precious farmland above and beyond easement purchases. Union County, through outreach efforts of the UCCD, also stands out with a far higher amount of no-till conservation agriculture than is practiced in adjacent or regional counties.

Union County has also had excellent success with its riparian zone improvement projects. UCCD has worked with farmers and has made a particularly strong effort to reach out to plain-sect farmers. The partnership between UCCD and BCWA has facilitated riparian projects on Turtle Creek and now on Conley Run.

“It’s the day-to-day strong working relationship that makes the government-NGO partnership work so well in Union County,” explained Geoff Goodenow, coordinator for the Merrill Linn Land and Waterways Conservancy. “The Union County Commissioners, Planning Commission, and UCCD have a vision for the county in which conservation is central. In making decisions, they consider the long-term consequences, impacts, and gains; and their judgment embodies true leadership.”

“We are pleased to honor such strong partners, actively protecting, restoring and preserving working lands and natural resources,” stated Andy Loza, executive director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “On behalf of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and the land conservation community, we thank the Union County Commissioners and their staff for their leadership and tremendous conservation efforts.”

The award was presented on May 6 in conjunction with the 2017 Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference in Lancaster. County commissioner John Showers and conservation district manager Bill Deitrick accepted the award on behalf of the county.