MONROE COUNTY, PA - (May 4, 2017) - A decades long vision to expand the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge just west of the Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County, PA, recently passed an important milestone. Last winter two land trusts working in the Poconos-Kittatinny-Upper Lehigh watershed region celebrated the completion of two complex land transaction, partly with support from OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund and Northeast Resilient Landscapes Initiative.
These properties added nearly 1,500 acres to the 7,500 acres already protected within the 20,000-acre refuge boundary, protecting both crucial headwaters and a section of the Cherry Creek with naturally reproducing brook trout. One of the transactions also facilitated the purchase of adjacent buildings being adapted as the new refuge headquarters and visitor center. Several other transactions totaling thousands of acres with approved OSI grants are scheduled to close over the next several months.
Cherry Valley is a rural farming area flanked by steep forested mountains. The forests contain headwater streams that recharge the limestone aquifer in the valley, feeding Cherry Creek, and extensive wetlands that support one of the state’s largest populations of federally endangered bog turtle and also providing abundant, clean drinking water to the Delaware River and downstream water users. Within close driving distance to millions of people, and crossed by the Appalachian trail, on the Kittatinny Ridge, the Cherry Valley Refuge (Refuge) also provides passive recreation such as trout fishing, hiking, and birding, and locally grown produce from its farms. Refuge officials anticipate the Refuge, which has received strong support from local residents and townships and county governments, will bring economic benefits from increased tourism to the region.
In late December 2016, The Conservation Fund (TCF) acquired 1,291 acres along the Kittatinny Ridge from Pennsylvania American Water Company (PAW), the first of several phases in the acquisition of over 4,662 contiguous acres of PAW lands by TCF.
OSI has approved $750,000 in grants for the entire project including a $350,000 Northeast Resilient Landscapes Fund grant to help fund the 1,291 acres. That part of the property has complex topography and geology making it important for protecting a diversity of plants and animals through climate change.
OSI also approved a $400,000 watershed grant to help acquire the remaining 3,371 additional acres of the tract closing in the next year. The entire area to be funded by the watershed grant is located in headwaters and, protects 368 acres of Active River Area and 95% of the land has high groundwater recharge. TCF will transfer the property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become part of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge with the goal of maintaining high-quality streams and critical habitat for sensitive aquatic species including bog turtle and brook trout. The property and also includes a section of the Appalachian Trail. Other funding for the first phase of the project came from the Middle Delaware Mitigation Fund.
Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania State Director for The Conservation Fund, said, "The PA American Water property is a keystone project in the Lehigh Valley, and for many years seemed out of reach due to the complexity of the acquisition and the $12.5 million price tag. This was a heavy lift with a tight time frame – and with over 20,000 pages of title work and subdivisions stretching across four municipalities and two counties, it took the right combination of partners to get Phase I across the goal line.
The creative and collaborative work between the National Park Service & U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enabled seed funding to protect trail resources on Refuge land and provide match to secure the remainder of the property outside of the trail corridor in the future. This is the first major acquisition in the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and it will establish a strong land base for the Refuge.