July 2009 GreenSpace Connect Digest
The GreenSpace Connect Digest is a publication of the GreenSpace Alliance that highlights success stories about preserving and connecting open space throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. To contribute or suggest future stories, please contact us.
List of Stories
New Trail Makes Important Pennypack Greenway Connection
At a June 16, 2009 dedication ceremony, the Montgomery County Commissioners officially cut the ribbon on the County’s latest addition to its growing regional trail network. Built on the roadbed of SEPTA’s inactive Foxchase-Newtown commuter rail line, the 1.8-mile trail segment parallels the edge of the Pennypack Creek through Montgomery County’s Lorimer Park, a wooded oasis of forest and stream valley located in Abington Township along the County’s border with Philadelphia. A long-term lease agreement between Montgomery County and SEPTA, which makes a 2.4-mile section of the trail corridor available for public trail use, includes an upcoming continuation of the trail across Shady Lane into the Rockledge area.
Richard Wood, Regional Trails Manager for Montgomery County’s Parks and Heritage Services Department, views this initial trail segment as a first taste of the scenic character and recreation potential of the Pennypack corridor. Future phases of the County’s Pennypack Trail and Cross County Trail projects will intersect near Byberry Road, giving easy access to a comprehensive network of existing and planned recreational trails throughout Montgomery County. Wood anticipates that public interest and support will be high for an eventual extension of the Pennypack Trail into Bucks County.
The Montgomery County Commissioners hailed the newly opened trail as an important step in achieving the County’s objectives of bringing trail opportunities within reach of all county residents and linking the County’s trail network to amenities in adjoining parts of the region. The County trail network currently comprises 54 miles and when completed, will incorporate 165 miles of recreational trails located in all parts of the County. Points of interest available via the County’s Pennypack Trail are Fox Chase Farm, a non-profit working educational farm facility adjoining Lorimer Park, and Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park, which begins at the County border and continues another 9 miles along the Pennypack Creek to its confluence with the Delaware River.
The Philadelphia and Montgomery County segments of the Pennypack Trail form the spine of the Pennypack Greenway envisioned to preserve land, protect natural resources, and provide recreational opportunities along the Pennypack Creek. Montgomery County’s focus on trails and greenways recognizes that natural resource protection, parks, and recreation corridors significantly enhance overall quality of life. The County’s trail network is a response to the Surgeon General’s recommendation that people who participate in regular activity such as hiking or biking can lower their risk for heart disease, stroke, and related diseases.
The Pennypack Trail was made possible by funding from Montgomery County’s Green Fields/Green Towns Program, overwhelming approved by voter referendum in 2003. In additional to County trail projects, this $150 Million funding initiative provides open space grants to municipalities and conservation organizations, and supports farmland preservation and expansion of the County’s parklands. Montgomery County’s recreational trails form linear parks that are easily accessible to a broad range of residents and are among the most actively used of the County’s open space facilities.
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Collaborative Conservation Preserves Bucks County Property
Alyce Stick realized the importance of leaving a lasting legacy in the area she so proudly calls home. By preserving her farmland from future development, she could protect its natural, wildlife and scenic resources for generations to come. With assistance from both Heritage Conservancy and Bucks County, she was able to make that vision a reality. As of today, 68 acres of her property are permanently preserved through agricultural and conservation easements. These acres are in close proximity to over 700 acres of preserved land, making her property a valuable addition to the protection of northern Bucks County’s heritage of scenic vistas and expansive farm fields.
The Stick Property is an excellent example of collaboration between private and public interests. Heritage Conservancy guided the landowner through the application process for the county’s farmland preservation program. Then, the conservancy and the county collaborated to make sure that the funding needed to preserve the land was available. Fifty-six acres of the preserved property qualified for conservation easements through the agricultural land preservation program administered by the county. This initiative is funded largely through a statewide conservation easement purchase program that was signed into law in 1988. To date, this preservation program has protected more farmland than any other state program in the nation. The easement for this part of the property was acquired through funds from the state, county and Heritage Conservancy. Of the 68 acres preserved, 12 did not qualify for the agricultural easement program, but contained high-quality conservation land that had significant wildlife and water resources. Because of the land’s importance, Heritage Conservancy made the decision to purchase conservation easements for the remaining 12 acres.
Preserving farmland and other natural resources like those contained within the Stick Property is important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is economic. In Pennsylvania, agriculture related industries generate $45 billion annually, with $62 million coming from Bucks County. Preserved farmland in a community can also contribute to lower taxes. For every dollar that a farm pays in property taxes, it only uses 33 cents in public services. Compare this to residential developments which require more than a dollar’s worth of services for every dollar that is paid. This is generally due to the need for additional services such as schools, roads, sewers and police.
The preserved property’s rolling farm fields create a scenic view along Route 212, in Springfield and Durham townships in northern Bucks County. A portion of Cooks Creek, which has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as the only viable coldwater fishery in Bucks County, runs through the property. The Stick Farm is also within a priority area cited in the Bucks County Natural Areas Inventory and is within the Cooks Creek Lasting Landscape® designated by Heritage Conservancy.
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Rare Serpentine Barrens Preserved through Public and Private Partnerships
Early European settlers in what is now Chester County found both fertile farmland and rocky, inhospitable areas in which no crops would grow. They called these sites “barrens”: the nutrient-poor soil created by the underlying serpentine rock prevented most plants from growing there, and repeated burning of the ground by Native Americans as they hunted grazing animals prevented encroachment by foreign species. Eventually, the green serpentine rock became valued as a building material, and mining instead of burning provided the disturbance necessary to maintain the unusual ecosystem.
Far from being void of life, serpentine barrens are home to threatened plants and animals that live only in that environment, including several species of beautiful wildflowers, such as the serpentine aster, an extremely rare summer-blooming white flower, and the round-leaved fameflower, a succulent that stores water in its stems. Since mining in the barrens halted after the turn of the century, Pennsylvania’s barrens have dwindled from eighteen to seven.
A 195-acre addition to Natural Lands Trust's ChesLen Preserve includes parts of the Unionville Barrens, an example of this rare ecosystem. The new addition to the property, which at 1,068 acres was already one of the largest private nature preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania, is the result of a long-term collaboration between an individual philanthropist and state and regional conservation organizations.
ChesLen Preserve was established two years ago through donations of land from philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and from Chester County. The parcel recently donated by Lenfest was originally part of the 17,000-acre King Ranch property, on which the Brandywine Conservancy owns conservation easements.
“The ChesLen Preserve was already one of the region’s gems,” says Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “With this addition, it becomes not just larger but home to one of the most unusual and important natural communities on the East Coast.”
The preserve contains vast agricultural fields, densely wooded stream corridors, two miles of the Brandywine Creek’s west branch, and unmatched panoramic views of Chester County countryside. From many points, one can see virtually no signs of modern development in any direction. Future plans for the preserve include an education center, as well as more trails, parking facilities, and signage—all of which will make the preserve more accessible to the public for hiking, bird-watching, and nature photography.
Those that worked with Lenfest to preserve the Unionville Barrens, including the Chester County Preservation Partnership Program, Natural Lands Trust, William Penn Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, emphasize the value of the undeveloped land to the local community.
“Once again, we have seen Mr. Lenfest’s generosity yield extraordinary results,” Morrison says. “With his leadership and the support of the County and the Commonwealth, the ChesLen Preserve is now an even greater gift to the region’s current and future residents.”
Chester County shares NLT's view. Terrence Farrell, Chairman of the County Commissioners, says that Lenfest’s donation “makes the ChesLen Preserve an even more spectacular resource for the citizens of the County.”
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Marcellus Shale Opens Funding Opportunity
Drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale will generate significant revenue for industry and, if the Governor’s proposed severance tax is approved, for the state. This revenue comes at a cost, however, to the natural landscape around drilling sites and to the state’s water supply. Land conservation and environmental organizations are urging the Governor and legislature to offset these costs by dedicating a portion of a the natural gas extraction tax to the state’s Environmental Stewardship Fund (Growing Greener) as well as to the PA Fish & Boat Commission and PA Game Commission (for habitat improvement and public access purposes).
At a town hall meeting in Media on June 5th, environmental advocates voiced many concerns that would be addressed by the funds from a severance tax. Support for the severance tax comes from a variety of interests, including land trusts, environmental protection groups, and longtime residents who enjoy fishing and other outdoor recreation on preserved land and who want to ensure that the same opportunities are available to their children and grandchildren.
Natural gas drilling has expensive environmental costs—surface erosion, water contamination, soil compaction, and, because the horizontal drilling techniques are so new, unknown long-term impacts—in addition to other production-related costs that the state or municipalities will pay for, including increased spending on worker and public safety, road maintenance, and the indirect costs resulting from the population boom around industry.
With the threat of the largest diversion of environmental funding in Pennsylvania’s history, it is more than ever important that a portion of the tax be dedicated to environmental protection. As Pennsylvania Environmental Council president Don Welsh warns in the Philadelphia Inqurier: “We cannot afford to discount or delay opportunities for new revenue sources, particularly those that are directly related to the programs they would support.... A meaningful percentage of the revenues generated by any tax on natural-gas extraction must be reinvested in the environment, public resources, and the local communities that will bear the greatest impacts of extraction. Public and private water supplies, local infrastructure, natural ecosystems, and recreational assets will all be affected.”
Opponents of the tax say that it would kill the industry in its cradle by making Pennsylvania unable to compete with other gas-producing states. But of the fourteen states with greater gas production than Pennsylvania, all but California levy a severance tax—and California charges an environmental fee that is used to offset inspection costs. Taxes are highest in the states with the greatest production. The tax rate proposed by Rendell matches that of our neighbor West Virginia.
Pennsylvania’s proximity to consumers already makes it attractive to industry. Most gas used in the northeast travels through pipelines from western states. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center: “Transportation costs represent on average 48% of the cost of natural gas for consumers, making gas produced in Pennsylvania highly competitive with western producer states.” Critics of the tax say that it is an added burden to companies that already pay corporate taxes—but many Pennsylvania gas well operators are organized as limited-liability companies and pay the personal income tax of 3.07%, rather than the 9.9% corporate tax.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urges Pennsylvanians to make the best use of a non-renewable state resource that isn’t going anywhere: “The bottom line: The Marcellus shale is so rich … Regardless of what pressure is brought to bear by the land men, time is not of essence.” Pennsylvanians should “weigh carefully the pros and cons of short-term gratification versus long-term gain.” Pennsylvania’s coal production has created a $15 billion environmental clean-up bill that will be paid for by taxpayers. A severance tax on natural gas extraction partially dedicated to environmental funding will ensure that taxpayers will not be billed later for the costs of drilling in the Marcellus shale.
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