On November 30, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy announced the protection of an 84-acre natural area in Addison Township, Somerset County. The area, situated along Whites Creek, is now open to the public for hiking, fishing, and nature-watching.

The Whites Creek Valley Natural Area was donated to the Conservancy by Paul McMillan, Jr., a retired botanist. It was important to McMillan to protect the forested property, consisting of mixed deciduous species and eastern hemlock trees, from future development.

“The mature forest has been untouched for more than 100 years,” said McMillan, who now resides in Arizona. “It gives me pleasure knowing that it will continue to be cared for under the Conservancy’s ownership and managed as a natural area open to the public to enjoy.”

The protection of this land helps to maintain the quality of Whites Creek, classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as a High Quality Cold Water Fishery.. A tributary to the Casselman River, Whites Creek is a popular natural trout-producing stream that is stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The property is located within the Pennsylvania Audubon Society’s Winding Ridge Forest Block Important Bird Area. This area contains habitat for a variety of birds, including forest interior birds, riparian birds and Neotropical migrants, such as Louisiana waterthrush, wood thrush, and scarlet tanager, which are dependent on healthy forests.

Now owned and managed by the Conservancy, Whites Creek Valley Natural Area also supports mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and number of rare wildflowers. A small parking lot is available on the southern portion of the property off of Whites Creek Road. You can find directions to the property using Google Maps or view a map of the property and other nearby natural areas.

McMillan inherited the property in 1997 from his mother, who first purchased the land in the 1930s. An abandoned railroad bisects the property, originally owned by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which supported local lumber and coal mining activities.

“We greatly appreciate Mr. McMillan’s foresight in his donation of Whites Creek Valley Natural Area,” said Thomas D. Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy. “This is another wonderful addition of protected lands available for public recreation in the Laurel Highlands in Somerset County.”