OSI and the William Penn Foundation team up to protect high-priority lands in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

NEW YORK, NY – August 24, 2011 – The Open Space Institute today announced the launch of its Bayshore-Highlands Fund, a new multi-million dollar initiative that funds the conservation of important ecological, watershed, recreational and agricultural lands in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This new initiative provides grants and loans for the purchase of land and permanent conservation easements.

The first two projects completed with support from the Fund, both announced today as well, are The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) acquisition of 325 acres of forested lands in southern New Jersey, and the Lancaster County Conservancy's (LCC) acquisition of 408 acres in the Welsh Mountain region of the Highlands of eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The $200,000 grant to TNC will help protect 493 acres of forest land previously owned by the Diocese of Camden that encompass the headwaters of the federally designated Wild and Scenic Maurice River. It will protect habitat supporting a variety of rare plants and animals and provide numerous recreational opportunities. The $250,000 LCC grant assists in the protection of 877 acres of forestland previously owned by the New Holland Borough Water Authority and encompassing the headwaters of the Mill Creek.

The acquisitions are two of eight projects that the Bayshore-Highlands Fund will support in its first grant round, which is expected to protect more than 1,700 acres through total contributions of $1.1 million that will leverage another $7 million in matching public and private funds.

The Diocese property lies in the heart of the Maurice River watershed, one of the state’s most pristine freshwater systems and home to a significant variety of rare plants, reptiles and amphibians and an array of migrating and breeding birds. The property was nearly developed in 2009 by a residential developer who intended to build 980 homes and a golf course on the lands. When the developer’s option to purchase expired, TNC stepped in to protect the area.

“TNC’s efforts in the Bayshore to protect important natural resources will be advanced significantly by this initiative,” said Bob Allen, director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy. “The support of William Penn and the Bayshore-Highlands Fund was critical to our closing this phase and puts us on track to completing the entire Diocese project.”

The Welsh Mountain Preserve is the second largest contiguous forest in Lancaster County and the waterways of Welsh Mountain feed the Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary. This area also boasts many plant and wildlife species and offers a variety of habitats. The future use of this property will be planned with input from hiking groups, mountain bikers, equestrian groups and other recreational organizations.

The Welsh Mountains proximity to the Morgantown exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike makes it a target for development. In fact, the seller was proceeding with subdivision of the first and second phases when the contracts for its conservation were signed.

“The Lancaster County Conservancy is thrilled that this seven-year partnership with New Holland Borough and our many supporters has resulted in permanent protection of these critical natural lands and will provide a variety of recreational opportunities for the citizens of the municipalities within the Welsh Mountain region and Lancaster County. OSI truly made it possible for us to complete the project,” said Kathie Gonick, the Conservancy’s director of land protection.

“DCNR is honored to work with its public and private partners on the conservation of the Welsh Mountain region in Lancaster County, an important piece of the much larger Pennsylvania Highlands greenway that serves as the backyard for almost every major city in southeastern Pennsylvania,” DCNR Deputy Secretary Cindy Dunn said.  “As one of the largest contiguous pieces of protected forested land in the county this area will help provide clean drinking water, wildlife habit and important opportunities for residents and visitors to explore the outdoors.”

DCNR’s grant to the Lancaster County Conservancy was made possible through the department’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program supported by the Keystone Fund to advance partnerships on land conservation, locally-driven planning and community economic revitalization efforts that protect natural resources and cultural assets.

The Bayshore-Highlands Fund was created in 2011 with a $5 million seed grant from the William Penn Foundation. The Fund focuses on these two regions because of their economic and ecological importance to the northeastern U.S. The New Jersey Bayshore contains significant habitat for plants and animals and a strong agricultural economy, while the Pennsylvania Highlands is the source of drinking water for 14 million people in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania, contains numerous trails for hiking, and supports a viable farm economy as well.

“Each of these projects contributes to the health of the greater Philadelphia region,” said Andrew Johnson, program officer of the William Penn Foundation. “In protecting our green infrastructure, we are protecting natural resources that create and sustain economic value and the livelihood of the region’s residents.”

In both the Bayshore and Highlands, the new Fund will support land conservation transactions that conserve wildlife habitat, provide new and expanded outdoor recreational access, protect clean water, or preserve farm and forestland. The Fund also seeks to raise visibility about both regions while promoting innovative conservation financing tools and practices. Every dollar provided by the OSI fund will be matched 5 to 1 by public and private funding sources.

The Bayshore-Highlands Fund is administered by the Open Space Institute with the help of an advisory committee that is guided by criteria designed to provide funding for the most regionally and nationally important landscapes.

“With public and private funding harder to come by, it’s critical to target acquisition dollars to achieve impact. Only the best projects merit support, and the two announced today are such projects,” said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president.” Leverage is also essential in this environment, and we are pleased to partner with public agencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey which have been essential to conservation in both states and will be needed in the years to come to help protect this region's incomparable green infrastructure.”

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