Gray’s Woods Preserve in Patton Township. Photo courtesy of ClearWater Conservancy
ClearWater Conservancy and Patton Township, with support from the Hamer Foundation, recently finalized a conservation easement that will permanently protect the 149-acre Gray’s Woods Preserve and ensure it remains accessible to the public for outdoor recreation.
The preserve is connected to Gray’s Woods Park and the State Gamelands commonly known as the Barrens of Scotia and is located within the Barrens Biodiversity Area, a Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Area.
A conservation easement is a deed restriction that limits development and protects the natural resources of a property in perpetuity, even if it is sold.
According to ClearWater, the easement will protect habitat that supports rare plant and animal species, as well as a groundwater recharge area that contributes to the area’s drinking water supply and supports the area’s famous trout fishery. when it empties into Spring Creek.
The Township of Patton acquired the land for $4.25 million in 2017 as part of its Open Space program – funded by a 0.6 mill levy approved in an election referendum in 2014 – along with support from Hamer Foundation. The township previously acquired the Haugh Family Preserve off Circleville Road for $2.5 million to maintain it as an open public space.
“The Township’s Open Space program is a direct result of citizen action encouraging elected officials to take action and pledging to support the purchase and maintenance of the Gray’s Woods Preserve and the Haugh Family Preserve,” Patton Township Superintendent Doug Erickson said in a statement. “These lands will provide, in perpetuity, a wide range of recreational benefits to users as well as protected habitats for native plants and wildlife.
The trails through the reserves pass through a wide variety of terrain and rare natural features, according to ClearWater. The Barrens of Scotia, on the other hand, are historically significant because of the iron ore mining town that once stood there, and ecologically significant because the area is home to the largest remaining patch of pine barrens habitat and scrub oaks in Pennsylvania.
“ClearWater has worked for more than a decade on efforts to connect and protect important habitat in Nova Scotia’s Barrens Region,” Deb Nardone, executive director of ClearWater, said in a statement. “The Township of Patton has taken an important step in protecting these lands permanently. This region is a one-of-a-kind gem, popular with hikers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. We are thrilled that Patton Township will make this place accessible to the public to visit and enjoy forever.
Open to the public year-round, the reserve is accessible from Gray’s Woods Boulevard. Parking available on the grounds of Gray’s Woods Park and a trail from the park connects to the reserve.
For the next step in the conservation process, the Township of Patton will establish a forest management plan with Woods and Waters Consulting.
The easement is part of ClearWater’s large-scale initiative, Scotia Barrens to Ridgelines, a conservation effort focused on connecting vital landscapes and protecting the groundwater below, according to the conservation. Last year, ClearWater acquired 1,271 acres known as Scotia West in Central and Huntingdon counties and, through a partnership with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, incorporated it into the forest Rothrock Estate.
“An important part of what we fund with Hamer Foundation funds is land and water protection,” Hamer Foundation board member Pat Morse said in a statement. “The effort to protect the Grays Woods Preserve is something that current foundation board members have been involved with for many years through our association with Clearwater Conservancy. We are grateful to everyone who has helped over many years to ensure that this property is still preserved and open to the public.