Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Walk This Way: Cove Mountain Preserve expansion to benefit nature, naturalists, communities

Hikers, rejoice! You’ll soon have new trails to blaze.

The Cove Mountain Preserve has plans for a major expansion—an extension that will offer new opportunities for recreation, hunting and other activities—and create a 14-mile stretch of protected land along the Kittatinny Ridge. The preserve is in Marysville, just north of the capital city.

The Pennsylvania and Delaware chapters of the Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently announced the purchase of former timberlands that will quadruple the size of the protected area and connect existing trails on Cove Mountain to PA state game lands, the Appalachian Trail and the borough of Marysville.

The conservancy acquired 353 acres at the southeastern end of Cove Mountain in late 2017, an area that had been eyed by developers for years. Now, it plans to purchase 1,100 additional adjacent acres, which will protect the land from development and fragmentation, while offering visitors pristine views of the Susquehanna River Valley.

“We want to strike a balance between preserving nature and providing access and economic opportunity,” said Keith Fisher, director of conservation programs.

Fisher said that TNC is working with the PA Game Commission, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and communities and local development authorities to evaluate existing conditions and devise the best plan to improve forest health and support individual benefit.

“We want to protect biodiversity and help nature adapt,” Fisher said. “The Kittatinny Ridge is a critical corridor running north to south. It provides diverse microhabitats and the ability to move between them, so its disconnection would be detrimental.”

TNC will continue to manage the area to support forest health and climate resilience and as habitat for native wildlife that need unfragmented forest corridors to survive, like black bears and bobcats. This landscape will become even more important as temperatures rise and species move further north or to higher elevations. TNC will continue to manage the forest for timber harvesting, too, part of TNC’s “Working Woodlands” program.

Amplifying the area’s importance and value is its benefit to local communities. Outdoor recreation and tourism are an important industry for Perry County, and this expansion holds promise that local businesses can grow to meet this demand.

Michelle Jones of the Perry County Economic Development Authority is excited about the expansion, as she spearheads the downtown revitalization of the county’s nine boroughs. She said that one factor identified in economic studies is the opportunity for outdoor recreation.

“Our primary goal is connectivity of these nine towns that are quite lovely,” Jones said. “We want to focus on bolstering and accentuating our downtown areas for families and small businesses, while maintaining an authentic connection. And we are nailing it right now, moving in the right direction.”

Perry County’s recent “Return on Environment” report found that the county brought in nearly $60 million from outdoor tourism in 2019. Dwarfing that number is the money saved and resources provided by Perry County’s protected areas—functions like pollination, erosion control, flood protection, carbon sequestration and water purification.

These factors add to the area’s climate resilience and its value as a natural respite.

“The goal and hope is to make sure people are aware of this opportunity in their community and take advantage of it—and become aware of how it fits in locally and in the larger picture,” Fisher said.

The authority has all nine boroughs participating in the PA Downtown Center Main Street Coordinating Program, a community-based approach to downtown and business district revitalization.

Jones said that the focus now is how to provide better access, and she has plans in the works that “dovetail beautifully” with Cove Mountain Preserve’s expansion, including the connection with the AT and a waterway expansion on Sherman’s Creek.

“It’s all tying together wonderfully,” she said.

The Kittatinny Ridge is one of the most important natural landscapes in the mid-Atlantic, running more than 200 miles through 11 PA counties and into New Jersey and New York. Known locally as Blue Mountain, the ridge is the eastern edge of the Appalachians and a highway of biodiversity. It has been designated a “Conservation Landscape” by PA DCNR and is an internationally important corridor for migratory birds and birds-of-prey.

“We have more than we realize,” Jones said. “You forget what’s in your own backyard.”

To learn more about Cove Mountain Preserve, visit the Nature Conservancy’s website at www.nature.org.

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