MEDIA, PA (Dec. 21, 2022)—An iconic part of Luzerne County’s car racing heritage has been permanently protected, thanks to grant support by the Open Space Institute (OSI). The land, which is now owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, will create new opportunities for public recreation and hunting, while its forests continue to remove harmful carbon from the air and filter clean water within the greater Delaware River Watershed.
The 278-acre property, protected by the Natural Lands nonprofit land trust and transferred to the State of Pennsylvania, is 90 percent wooded, offering abundant habitat for wildlife. The Pennsylvania Game Commission plans to remove the raceway’s old concession stand and starting gate, further returning the area to a natural condition.
Financial support from two OSI Funds, the Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund and the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, helped Natural Lands secure the property.
“The Open Space Institute is proud of its role in protecting this property, which will continue to nurture the unspoiled forested headwaters of the Delaware River Watershed and protect land in the face of climate change,” said Bill Rawlyk, OSI's Mid-Atlantic field coordinator. “We applaud Natural Lands for their work in securing this important conservation win.”
"We are proud to protect this beautiful space,” said John Levitsky, the former property owner. “The property was always a place for our family and friends to get together, hunt, and pick blueberries and mushrooms. Even when the races were operating, I was more likely to be looking for frogs and salamanders in the swamp when there wasn’t work to be done.
“Pocono Drag Lodge was developed by my family during a peak in the drag racing era,” continued Levitsky. “It was a time when natural areas seemed to be endless in our region, and protection of forest lands was not a part of people’s focus. When Natural Lands contacted my family with interest in preserving the property, it did not take long to decide. We knew that the many family members that had spent time here would be happy to keep the land undeveloped.”
Launched in 2014, OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund is capitalized by the William Penn Foundation and has protected approximately 20,000 acres in the Delaware River Watershed. Forested lands along the river’s headwaters serve as a natural filter, protecting water quality for approximately 15 million people, including residents of Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and New York City. Because the property contains two tributaries to Bear Creek, which flows to the Lehigh and the Delaware rivers, its protection is critical for regional water quality.
OSI’s Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF), started in 2021 and supported by funders including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the William Penn Foundation, preserves land along the Appalachian Mountain range, an area that is home to the world’s largest broadleaf forest, stores most of the nation’s forest carbon, and provides essential refuge for plants and animals at risk of habitat loss from climate change.
The property's forests connect to protected lands, including more than 24,000 acres of Pennsylvania State Game Lands and the 3,500-acre Bear Creek Preserve managed by Natural Lands. These connections create a forested natural corridor that is highly “climate resilient,” meaning the lands will continue to provide a haven for threatened and at-risk plants and animals even as the climate changes.
In addition to OSI’s support, funding came from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Community Conservation Partnership Grant and the PA Game Commission.