1WWA3ApThe Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) announced today the permanent protection of hundreds of forested acres in the Laurel Highlands along two miles of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).

Today’s acquisition of a 329-acre tract of land in Black Township, Somerset County, is one of five properties conserved in recent years along the GAP and increased WPC’s Casselman River Conservation Area to 609 total acres.

According to the Allegheny Trail Alliance, approximately one million people use the GAP each year for recreational purposes, and many of them will pass directly through this scenic protected area that hosts forested slopes and marshes.

Beyond its scenic and recreational value, the property includes ecologically important habitat, such as floodplain forests and vegetated frontage along the Casselman River. This section of the Casselman River Valley is home to several rare plant species, and the property is located in the vicinity of endangered bat species that forage and roost in forest and river edge habitats. The property also protects water quality for the river, as the forests and wetlands are vital for filtering and storing water.

This property is open to the public for fishing, hiking, and other forms of low-impact recreation.

The Family of B. Kenneth Simon provided the lead funding for the purchase of this property, with additional funding coming from the McKenna Foundation and public sources.

“The Great Allegheny Passage is one of the extraordinary outdoor recreation amenities in our region,” said Thomas D. Saunders, president and CEO of WPC. “It’s crucial to protect the beautiful forested and river views along it – the uninterrupted views of the Pennsylvania landscape, the expansive forest, the sense of some degree of wilderness – are all part of the experience of getting out on the GAP trail.”

The Conservancy has a long history of land protection in the Laurel Highlands, with more than 83,300 acres protected to date since 1951.