White Rocks Conservation Project

A readily accessible, spectacular unbroken tract of mixed eastern forest that abuts National Park Service land.

Background: The partners actively involved with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - led by South Mountain Conservation - have identified the privately owned Penn Products tracts as the highest priority unprotected lands within the landscape.




A Brief History

The National Park Service acquired four parcels from the owner in the late 1980's and early 1990's for protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the popular White Rocks Trail. There was a proposal before the local township for development which (if approved) would have permitted as many as 274 homes adjacent to the White Rocks Trail and its viewshed. Negotiations for the original four parcels, and recent negotiations for five new parcels, were a challenge due to differences of opinion on value. Recently, the owner agreed to accept the appraised fair market value to preserve the lands permanently for all to enjoy.


Tract Info

There are 5 parcels which are each contiguous to lands acquired by the National Park Service for the protection of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The parcels are located in Cumberland County, some in Monroe Township, with the remainder in South Middleton Township.

Partners

Public partners include the National Park Service, DCNR's Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, and Cumberland County Planning Department. The primary non-governmental partners (NGO's) have been the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club, Mountain Club of Maryland, and Susquehanna Appalachian Trail Club.

Resource Values

Perhaps the most significant value is the spectacular viewshed and habitat of unbroken mixed eastern forest on the south side and limestone rich productive agricultural lands to the north.

While the natural and cultural resources may be difficult to quantify, the consensus opinion is that they are significant. The area hosts hibernacula for state-identified species of concern. There are important vernal pools on adjacent parcels. The White Rocks quartzite ridge has been identified by DCNR as a geologic heritage site. These lands also serve to protect the community's drinking water recharge area and the high quality cold water fishery of the Yellow Breeches Creek. The White Rocks Trail provides a very popular outdoor recreational resource for hikers, birders, and rock climbers.

Threats

Over the past several years parcels IV and V were under contract with a developer. A preliminary plan for 274 lots on 277 acres (parcel V) was submitted to Monroe Township in 2006, with the intent of phased additional development on the remaining tracts. The acreage in question represented 9% of the municipality's conservation zone at the time of the proposal. The original ordinance allowed for residential units to be constructed on 1/2 acre lots. Following several well-attended public meetings, the proposal was denied by the board of supervisors and a new zoning ordinance required a minimum of 2-acre lots.

Happy Endings

850 Acres Preserved: In 2009 the landowner began conversations with Central Pennsylvania Conservancy about selling the property for preservation. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy then became involved in negotiations and it was determined that the National Park Service would be the most appropriate owner of the protected land. Through extensive negotiations, 850 acres are now preserved under ownership of the National Park Service. Funding for this land conservation project came from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund (Key93), and local private contributions. Total project cost was $3.5 million.