UNION TOWNSHIP, PA — August 24, 2015 — Hopewell Big Woods, a biodiverse web of forests that also makes up the largest stretch of contiguous woodlands between New York City and Washington, DC, just got a little bigger and more peaceful with the help of the Natural Lands Trust (NLT), the Open Space Institute (OSI) and other partners.
The 54-acre addition will allow the reroute of a portion of the 140-mile Horseshoe Trail from its current location, which has led visitors through land owned by the South Birdsboro Gun Club with frequent gunfire noise.
NLT purchased the land, which lies in the core of the Hopewell Big Woods, for nearly $400,000, then donated the acreage to French Creek State Park. The Big Woods’ dense woodlands are home to diverse flora and fauna—including Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, box turtles, mature oak trees, lady’s slipper orchids, mountain laurel and wild azalea—and are part of a web of preserved land in the region, connecting to French Creek State Park, the Birdsboro Waters preserve, state game lands and other open space purchases.
“The Big Woods’ vast network of undeveloped lands that is critical for filtering drinking water and clean air,” said Peter Howell, Executive Vice President at OSI. “We congratulate NLT on their leadership and long-standing commitment to the sustainability of this vital natural area.”
OSI’s support for the project came from its Bayshore-Highlands Fund, which supports projects that accelerate strategic land conservation in the New Jersey Bayshore and the Pennsylvania Highlands. The Big Woods lies within the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape, an area at the intersection of the PA Highlands and the Schuylkill River Watershed that has been designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as a priority for conservation, recreational access, and compatible economic development. The area includes 660 miles of exceptionally valuable streams, and provides 1.75 million people with drinking water.
Protection of the newly-added parcel was made possible by the visionary donation of its former owners, the Smith family, who had owned it since 1957.
“Throughout those 58 years, we were privileged to live in harmony with the land, flora and fauna,” said Steve Condict, who married into the family. “This is a great and well-deserved addition to the park and Hopewell Big Woods.”
Seventy-one percent of Pennsylvania’s forests are privately owned, The (Pottstown, PA) Mercury reported in the Aug. 20 article “Natural Lands Trust adds 54 acres to French Creek Park,” putting them at risk for development.
“Land preservation successes like this one are only possible with the support of our many partners, and families who choose conservation,” said Molly Morrison, NLT’s president. The Big Woods has been the focus of conservation efforts by NLT and more than 50 private and public partners over the past decade.
OSI provided $67,800 to the project. Other support for the project was provided by the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund; PA Department of Community and Economic Development — Commonwealth Financing Authority; PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — Bureau of Recreation and Conservation; PA Bureau of State Parks; Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation; and an anonymous gift in memory of Abbot F. Low.