Land in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands that provides wildlife habitat and scenic views of Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset County is now permanently protected, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) announced on August 16.
The 184-acre property in Middlecreek Township is adjacent to Laurel Hill State Park and, from an overlook tower, offers exquisite views of the Laurel Ridge and park. Although not public land until today, many park-goers and visitors accessed the property to photograph and experience the beauty of the Laurel Highlands or attend picnics and events held at Penn Scenic View.
The Conservancy transferred the property, along with buildings and facilities, to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of State Parks to become a permanent addition to Laurel Hill State Park. The state park will now consist of more than 4,200 acres of mountainous terrain and hosts 15 miles of hiking trails. Future plans include a new trail connection between this addition and established park trails.
“Anchored amid the Laurel Highlands’ abundant beauty, Penn Scenic View – with its more than 180 acres, pond and combination of buildings – will directly benefit Laurel Hill State Park visitors and complement what DCNR already offers in that region with its popular state parks and Forbes State Forest,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “This acquisition accentuates the value of long-time DCNR partnerships with WPC and other conservancies, drawn together by the shared goal of land conservation.”
In addition to the scenic views, the property has important conservation value. It is directly adjacent to and part of the surrounding upland landscape of the Laurel Hill State Park Natural Heritage Area where floodplain forest, wetlands, and slopes support a number of state rare species, including the state endangered Appalachian blue violet (Viola appalachiensis).
The partially forested property is also located within Pennsylvania Audubon Society’s Youghiogheny Valley/Ohiopyle State Park Important Bird Area (IBA). This IBA provides necessary wildlife habitat and breeding grounds for a wide variety of migrating birds, including species dependent on habitats within forests and near waterways. This newly-conserved forested land buffers a tributary to Laurel Creek and further complements efforts to safeguard the water quality of the main stem of Laurel Creek, which was listed in 2009 as one of the 10 most endangered waterways in the country by the conservation group American Rivers.
“Conservancy staff worked with the owners and park staff to protect this picturesque property and preserve one of the most spectacular views of the Laurel Highlands,” said Thomas Saunders, president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “This is a wonderful addition to Laurel Hill State Park.”
The property was purchased from Penn Scenic View, Inc. The conservation of this land was made possible through grants from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Colcom Foundation and DCNR.
The Conservancy has a long history of land protection in the Laurel Highlands, with more than 83,300 acres protected to date since 1951.