News

OSI funding helps preserve the gateway To Unami Forest and 75-acre park

Northern Montgomery County, PA — August 30, 2012 — The Open Space Institute has assisted the Montgomery County Lands Trust (MCLT) with the permanent protection of the 78-acre Rogers-Hiester property, a long sought-after landscape in Upper Salford and Marlborough townships that is rich in both natural and historical resources.

MCLT received a $150,000 grant from the Bayshore-Highlands Fund, which OSI created in 2011 with a $5 million seed grant from the William Penn Foundation. The Fund focuses on the New Jersey Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands, two regions with economic and ecological importance to the northeastern U.S.

The Rogers-Hiester property is the gateway to the Unami Forest, one of the larger remaining mature, intact forests in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is home to the 1757 Georgian-style Daniel Hiester House. Plans for the property include restoration of the historically significant structure, the creation of a 75-acre park, and the future development of hiking trails that will connect the property to other regional trails and open space. 

“We are extremely pleased to have been a part of the protection of the Rogers-Heister property through OSI’s Bayshore–Highlands Fund,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “This land is part of the Unami forest, one of the most ecologically rich forest patches in the Pennsylvania Highlands. The combination of the historical importance of the Heister House, combined with the protection of high-quality streams and regional trail connections is a winning combination for the Pennsylvania Highlands region.”

MCLT’s $1.6 million purchase of the property followed a 30-month campaign to raise the needed funds. Upon purchase, the land was transferred to Upper Salford Township, which will maintain it as a publicly accessible park. MCLT will hold a conservation easement on the property that ensures it will be forever protected from development. 

“This is a capstone project for Montgomery County Lands Trust’s two decades of work in the region,” said Dulcie Flaharty, MCLT’s executive director. “During a time when funds for open space are scarce, we are grateful to have partners recognize the significance of this project, one that combines protection of both natural and cultural gems.” 

The 78-acre property contains diabase geology with scenic boulders and rock formations, and the confluence of Montgomery County's only two high-quality streams: Unami Creek and Ridge Valley Creek. A large portion of the property consists of mature woodlands that are part of the Unami Forest, a notable section of the nationally recognized Pennsylvania Highlands. The land is ideally situated to serve as the linchpin for future connection of other conserved tracts in the Unami forest to both Montgomery County's 3,400-acre Green Lane Park and the 19-mile Perkiomen Trail just west of the property. With 50,000 users monthly, the Perkiomen Trail connects with the Schuylkill River Trail, linking Philadelphia to Pottsville. 

The property is also a picturesque setting for a 255-year-old brick manse, originally the residence of Daniel Hiester, noted patriot and statesman. Because it was never remodeled, the house is in remarkable condition, retaining exceptional, unaltered period features. The prominence of this estate was so significant that it was noted on the first official map of Pennsylvania in 1759. The rare combination of natural and historic resources elevates Rogers-Hiester landscape to a status of unprecedented importance, not only regionally but also statewide. 

In addition to OSI, funding partners brought substantial resources to the project, including: $678,000 from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), $342,000 from Montgomery County’s Green Fields/Green Towns Open Space Program, $20,000 from Upper Salford Township and more than $60,000 in community support rallied by Montgomery County Lands Trust. 

“This property was a ‘critical habitat’ acquisition,” said Carolyn Wallis, natural resource program supervisor for DCNR. “The land has the highest conservation value in the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape. Two high-quality streams run through it, the diabase geology supports rare and unusual plants, and it is within the Unami Forest Important Bird Area as identified by the National Audubon Society. In other words, it is an exceptional place that needed desperately to be preserved.”

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