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Pa. does more ‘investing in open space’ by adding acres to the state forest system

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About 70 acres of land under threat of development have been preserved and added into the state forest system managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The two tracts in Berks County – one of 15.5 acres and a second of 56 acres – were acquired through the cooperation of Natural Lands, a non-profit focused on preserving open spaces and public access to them. Natural Lands has added more than 660 acres to the state forest system.

“In addition to adding valuable recreation opportunities, these tracts of land are key in connecting our trails and protecting our woodland habitats,” DCNR State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger said. “The addition of these lands will pay dividends for generations. Conserving tracts of forest in this region of the state is critical in reaching that goal.”

The first property is the 15.5-acre Bucci parcel, which Natural Lands purchased and immediately transferred to the DCNR for addition to the Gibraltar Hill Tract of William Penn State Forest.

Located in Robeson Township in southern Berks County, the land provides direct access to the Thun section of the Schuylkill River Trail and protects the scenic views along the trail, which is a multi-use path that will eventually extend 120 miles from Frackville in Schuylkill County to Philadelphia.

“The land has been in our family for more than 50 years,” James Bucci noted. “I have fond memories of hiking Gibraltar Hill with my father when I was a teenager and, later, of hunting for morel mushrooms with my son.”

The second property is the 56-acre White Acres parcel in Heidelberg and South Heidelberg townships in eastern Pennsylvania. It was added to the George Wertz Tract of William Penn State Forest and provides important densely wooded habitat for wildlife, including several species of migratory songbirds whose populations are in decline globally.

“Our property has been in our family for three generations. We are thankful for the blessings of living in a beautiful place,” Jim White said. “As we pass along the forest land to Natural Lands and the Bureau of Forestry, we are thankful that it will stay in its natural state for generations to come.”

Both properties boast mature woodlands.

“There’s never been a time where protected open space has been more important,” Natural Lands President Oliver Bass said. “Visitation to our region’s parks, preserves and trail systems has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people look for safe opportunities for recreation and stress relief. Add to that the pivotal point to which we’ve all arrived in the climate crisis, investing in open space is an investment in our quality of life, our health and our future.”

Without protection, those views and the beautiful woodland habitat could have been lost to development.

A two-year conservation effort, led by Natural Lands and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, brought together federal and state funds to acquire the properties.

The federal Highlands Conservation Act, a fund established to protect an almost unbroken band of forested hills running through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, provided leadership funding for the preservation.

The tracts lie within the Schuylkill Highlands, a DCNR-designated region at the nexus of two landscapes that have been prioritized for protection: the Highlands and the Schuylkill River Watershed.

For more information visit the Natural Lands website.

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