Protect the trees, protect the water

Middle (left) and Swamp creeks surroundng Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve, are designated Exceptonal Value creeks.Monday morning, the Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources cut a ribbon making a 560-acre parcel abutting Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve an access to Michaux State Forest. The move was a good one.

On the one hand, Strawberry Hill founder Frances Froelicher wanted to protect the Swamp Creek watershed. About two years ago, Swamp and Middle creeks were named Exceptional Value streams, the highest-quality designation for a cold water fishery in Pennsylvania. Making the land part of Michaux should be the logical next step in protecting the forest that protects those creeks. (“Should be” because we have seen what happens when we vote for a political leader who has no wish to maintain community-owned parks and forests.)

And Strawberry Hill gained nearly $1 million infusion to its endowment, thus extending the ability of the center to provide environmental exposure and education to Adams County students. A cool part of the deal was Strawberry Hill did not lose access to the forest and its trails.

But one of the greatest benefits to the general public is the water purification facility – 560 acres of wooded hillside – for a bit under a million dollars. Franklin Township built a wastewater treatment facility a few years ago for about $8 million.

In 2008, Glatfelter paper company had 2,500 acres on the other side of the hill from Strawberry Hill. It decided to sell the land rather than continue to pay taxes on a resource – trees – it would not be able to use for many years. The same argument – water protection – was used by supporters of an effort by which Adams County voters authorized the county borrowing 10-million dollars to protect the land rather than allow it to be chopped into residential lots, complete with numerous paved roads and driveways, large roofs, additional school bus routes, and higher road maintenance bills. (Drive up Mount Hope and Cold Springs roads, see the ditches washed out by the July rains, and imagine what the damage would have been had the forest already been replaced by houses.) And throw in a water treatment plant to replace the one that would have become all those other “signs of progress.”

There are some people who look at Hamiltonban Township – home to the aforementioned 560 acres – and point out the town has not grown, and does not appear about to.

But there are others who remember a plan, before the economic crash of 2008, when a housing development was drawn that would have added 400 homes to the western Adams County township. Remember that Susquehanna River water is being piped to Abbottstown and Littlestown, on the southeastern part of the county, to accommodate the people who had moved into new homes from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. because they could afford the gas to commute to the much cheaper – even at inflated prices – rural living.

There was a mobile home development in the works in upper Adams County, and residents who previously had eschewed zoning suddenly found themselves defenseless. That’s the way it works: either you write the regulations ahead of time, or one day developers move in, build a bunch of homes, and sell them to people who suddenly discover they need water.

As long as boys and girls keep growing up to be mothers and fathers, they are going to expand their need to control water. It’s biology at its most basic.

As a dedicated observer of biology, who spends much of his life wandering the South Mountains in that pursuit, I am glad Strawberry Hill sold that land.

And that We The People of Penn’s Woods now own it.

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