The Nature of ConservationJun 01, 2020 03:37PM ● By Gayle Morrow
Where do you turn when you need a nature fix? Maybe it’s nearby public land where you enjoy trails and wildlife and pristine streams. If you’re lucky, maybe it’s your own green fields or wooded hillsides. When people are asked to “stick close to home,” as they have the past few months, says Reneé Carey, executive director of the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy, there seems to be an increase in outdoor recreation. “We’re creating places that people appear to turn to,” she continues, “and that has been one of the things we’re most proud of.” They’ve been doing it for thirty years, and she’s been the executive director for twenty-five of those.
NPC got its start in 1989 when some like-minded folks in the area saw the need to unify the conservation efforts of many into one organization that could act quickly and efficiently. The Williamsport-Lycoming Foundation provided the seed money, and NPC was incorporated in 1990. Its first land purchase was 117 acres along Pine Creek in Lycoming County in 1991. Known as the Townsend Acquisition, it was subsequently sold to the state Bureau of Forestry and is now part of the Tiadaghton State Forest.
NPC facilitated a similar purchase and transfer in 2016 when a 132-acre parcel along the northern section of the Pine Creek rail trail, adjacent to Marsh Creek Road, became available. It happened fast, Reneé remembers. The privately owned property in Delmar Township was to be auctioned, and the Bureau of Forestry contacted NPC to ask if it could try to buy the land. Within seventy-two hours, it had. When the auction was over, and NPC found itself the new owner, Reneé immediately called two of the founding members to thank them. It was their foresight, she says, that enabled the organization to be “nimble” enough to step in on such short notice and be the successful bidder. Ownership of the parcel, now known as the Cavanaugh Access, has since been transferred to the Bureau of Forestry. The land is protected from development, and serves as a wetlands conservation area, a place for wildlife to move between the nearby woods, Marsh Creek, and the wetlands, and serves as a “huge sponge” that helps keep Pine Creek cool in the summer. Plus, it also gives people another public spot to access the rail trail.
It’s not just public land that NPC helps protect and conserve, however. For Lou Irion and his family, Tioga County residents who own and operate Irion Lumber, a specialty hardwood business (irionlumber.com), putting about 80 percent of their property into a conservation easement in 2004 with NPC meant they’d never have to worry about it being developed.
“We consider the land a part of our family,” says Lou. “We try to act as stewards. We have this opportunity to make sure it stays open; development rights are taken out of the equation. We don’t want to give up control, but we want to leave it in the best possible condition.”
Lou explains that the easement he and his family worked out with NPC allows them to use the land, log it, farm it, even erect agriculture-related structures on it, but “we’re legally bound to not build on it.” And that was the protection they wanted. Prior to entering into the easement agreement, Lou and his wife, Wanda, set aside two chunks of property—one for each of their two kids to build their own homes on if they wanted to (they did)—but the “bulk of the land is pretty much left to nature.” It’s not only shelter and breeding areas for wildlife, but it’s a hundred-plus acres of living area for those creatures that is not fragmented.
“It’s been a really good relationship,” Lou says of the association with NPC. “You work with them to tailor it [the easement] to your needs.”
Renee explains that one of the first steps for anyone interested in pursuing any type of land protection through NPC is a conversation. There is paperwork, and a site visit, but “we always emphasize that they [the property owner] are under no obligation.”
“I don’t think it’s a difficult process,” she says.
What’s in store for NPC’s next thirty years?
“I think public access [to public land] is huge,” Reneé notes, adding there might be ways to make it easier for people to do that. “It’s also important that people have more of an understanding of the services that nature provides.” Keeping watersheds clean and available as a natural water filtration network, for instance, is critical, as “it is a lot easier and cheaper” than building water treatment systems.
“Most of the counties we work with have active Conservation Districts, and we partner with them and their events,” Reneé continues, but those activities have been temporarily put on hold. Even the thirtieth anniversary dinner celebration has been postponed. And, while many of the conservation easements are donated, as are some properties, the organization must generally take out a loan when money must change hands.
“The big thing for us in the next year is we’re definitely paying attention to finances,” she notes. “We recognize there are economic stressors.”
There are fourteen counties in which NPC operates, including Bradford, Lycoming, Potter, Sullivan, and Tioga. To see all the properties under NPC care, or for more information about how land trust and land protection works, visit npcweb.org or call (570) 323-6222.