The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy announced on September 1, 2020 the permanent protection of 561 acres of forestland in Benezette Township, Elk County – a popular destination in our region to see elk roam in their habitat. The property was immediately conveyed to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to become open to the public as a new addition to Moshannon State Forest.
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s elk range in the Pennsylvania Wilds, this now protected forestland provides habitat for elk and other wildlife, plus protects the scenic views along State Route 555 between Medix Run and Benezette.
The property includes approximately a half mile of forested riparian frontage along the Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek and is located within a WPC-designated priority forest patch with many intact forestlands, including Moshannon and Elk state forests. These forests are designated Important Bird Areas by the Audubon Society to help conserve bird habitat and populations. Also, the Conservancy’s Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area is nearby, which hosts a mature floodplain forest and provides public access to the creek for fishing.
“Protecting land in the Bennett Branch Valley corridor has been a priority for the Conservancy for more than a decade,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy. “In 2008, we purchased Bennett Branch Forest and added 3,932 acres to Moshannon State Forest. Since then, we protected four other properties in the corridor, including land that is now the Conservancy’s Doc Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area. Our watershed conservation program is doing large-scale abandoned mine drainage work on Cherry Run, a tributary to Bennett Branch. And this acquisition is a key addition in the corridor.”
This acquisition brings the Conservancy to 8,382 acres that have been acquired for protection in the Bennett Branch Valley corridor. Saunders recalls that former Conservancy board member Doc Blakeslee always viewed that once Bennett Branch began to be cleaned up from mine impacts, it would be important to acquire land for public protection and access along the stream and in the valley.
“Protecting this beautiful and remote property has so many conservation and public benefits, especially with an unprecedented number of people getting out in nature and using public lands in recent months” says Shaun Fenlon, vice president of land conservation for the Conservancy. “Not only are we saving much-needed forestland, but this protection further helps a watershed recovering from the effects of abandoned mine drainage. Today, Bennett Branch is becoming a popular fishing destination, so this protection goes a long way in supporting stream health and water quality for aquatic habitats, drinking water sources and recreation.”
This addition brings Moshannon State Forest to nearly 190,600 acres that span Clearfield, Elk and Centre counties. Since 1983, WPC has acquired and transferred more than 5,000 acres to DCNR for Moshannon State Forest.
Conservation of this forestland was made possible thanks to grants from DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation’s Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Financing Authority; and DCNR Bureau of Forestry.