Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman

Two Projects Strengthen New Wildlife Refuge

Map Cherry Valley Refuge

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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. (see map)

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 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 headwaters 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 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.

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Cherry Valley TCF

Cherry Valley
The Conservation Fund
Hamilton and Ross Townships, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, 
Pocono and Kittatinny Cluster

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 US 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

Kyle Shenk TCF“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.

We are grateful to the ongoing support of OSI, which will be crucial in the protection of the entire property.”

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Cherry Creek

Cherry Creek Watershed
The Nature Conservancy
Stroud Townships, Monroe County, Pennsylvania

In February 2017, The Nature Conservancy acq1uired 193 acres along the Cherry Creek in Smithfield and Stroud Townships, Monroe County, PA, with the help of a $344,598 grant from OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund. TNC will convey the land, currently a golf course, to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to become part of its new Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge will restore the land to forest and natural wildlife habitat.

The property includes a section of the Cherry Creek, designated by the state of Pennsylvania as a High Quality Cold Water Fishes stream. Reforestation of the site will protect the high water quality of Cherry Creek and provide public access to fishing and other passive recreation. Restoring forest around this portion of Cherry Creek will play an important role in filtering and recharging waters flowing into the Delaware that supply drinking water to downstream users. Its potential for being restored to native wildlife habitat, including reintroduction of American chestnut, and proximity to other protected areas is what attracted the TNC to the project.

Other funding for the first phase of the project came from the Pennsylvania Division of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Monroe County, and several private sources (the Abeloff Foundation, ESSA Bank and Trust Foundations and the Maslin Foundation). 

Ralph “Bud” Cook
Northeast Pennsylvania Director for The Nature Conservancy

Bud Cook“When we announced the purchase of the golf course, a local newspaper headline lauded it as “Nature’s Mulligan.” It is, indeed, a second chance for a property that is now destined to become a refuge not for golf balls but wildlife habitat. We had many steep challenges in protecting this tract. We had a finite window to complete the deal and faced some very large funding gaps that we were not sure how to fill. A turning point came when community members held a pig roast on an adjacent property which energized local residents and created a groundswell of support for protecting the property and building the refuge for the future of the community.

Ultimately the partners and stakeholders rallied to meet the funding goal through township, county, and state grants, along with private funders and many enthusiastic local supporters. This has permitted us to ‘play the long game’ for land and water conservation. I’m happy that TNC has been able to serve as the spark for conservation here and appreciate the support from OSI.”

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