On September 6 the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy announced the donation of a conservation easement from landowners Denny and Joan Thompson to protect 377 acres of forestland along Bald Eagle Mountain in Halfmoon Township, Centre County.

This easement safeguards important plant communities and wildlife habitats found within a large 320-acre contiguous forest.

This forest area, positioned high on the slopes of Bald Eagle Mountain, is one of the largest areas of remaining untouched forest in Halfmoon Township. The Thomsons are also placing an agricultural conservation easement on 241 acres of their farmland. That easement, to be held by the Centre County Agricultural Lands Preservation Board, ensures that their agricultural land continues as a working farm.

Natives of Wisconsin, the Thomsons moved to central Pennsylvania in 1970 to work at Penn State University and eventually raise their family. Over a period of 42 years, they added adjacent properties to their now 618-acre Halfmoon Township homestead, hoping to reduce threats from development and forest fragmentation in Centre County. For the Thomsons, protecting their forest with a donated easement comes instinctively, as they both were raised with a conservation ethic imparted from their parents. Joan grew up on a dairy farm and Denny’s parents, who were botanists and nature enthusiasts, introduced him to American author and conservationist Aldo Leopold. Denny says that this donation is not only a gift to the Conservancy, but an investment in nature for the region.

“It was important to us to create a legacy that contributed to the greater conservation good and be a good example for others considering donating land,” he said. “I’m privileged to be on this unique, precious, and beautiful spaceship Earth and I’d like to believe I’ll leave a little bit of it in better shape than when I first arrived.”

In addition to the large forest and farmland, the property is interspersed with meadows and wetlands. The vernal pools (temporary areas of water that occur seasonally on land) on this section of the property are part of a complex of pools within the Gatesburg forest landscape. This wetland complex is recognized by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program as important habitats for distinctive plants, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates that use vernal pools at various stages of their life cycles. Additionally, the surrounding forest landscape supports several rare and threatened species, including eastern hognose snake, Appalachian cottontail, and golden-winged warbler.

The easement will also protect Warriors Mark Run, a tributary to Spruce Creek which flows into the Little Juniata River and its headwater streams. This run originates on the property and supports a population of native brook trout.

“This conservation project would not be possible without all of the partners in the region working to ensure this land remains wild and a place for future conservation planning and learning opportunities,” said Joan. “This land has been a big part of our lives, and it is satisfying and special to know it will endure.”

Protecting land via conservation easements, which are permanent deed-restriction agreements tailored to meet specific landowner needs and conservation goals, is not a foreign concept to the Thomsons. Before moving to Pennsylvania, they donated land to The Prairie Enthusiasts, a land trust in the upper Midwest, which turned their donated land into a public nature center.

“Centre County is a spectacular place, with extensive forested ridges, beautiful farming valleys and wonderful ecological resources. A donation of a conservation easement of this size and significance is a wonderful gift from the Thomson family,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy.