By Joshua Parrish, Director of Working Woodlands for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania

I have participated in several land deals during my eleven-year career protecting wildlife habitat for The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter. However, our most recent project—the acquisition of 353 acres on Cove Mountain, located within minutes of the state capitol in Harrisburg—carries sentimental value because it is just down the road from my childhood home.

This is a beautiful part of the state, only enriched by its proximity to other conservation lands including the Susquehanna Water Gaps—one of 28 natural landmarks in Pennsylvania recognized by National Park Service. Cove Mountain is also nestled within the Middle Susquehanna River Water Trail and the Susquehanna Birding and Wildlife Trail, and just a hop-skip-jump from the Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail that features some of the most scenic vistas in the state.

Acquiring Cove Mountain is an exciting achievement for the Conservancy. Many potential buyers had expressed an interest in acquiring the property in order to build homes, cell phone towers and other structures, as has been the case on neighboring mountains located along both sides of the Susquehanna River. The deal we struck with the conservation-minded sellers protects the property from such development . . . forever.

Now in our hands, we are like kids in a candy store—exploring and developing a management plan that will guide us in supporting native wildlife, including migrating raptors and songbirds, and the endangered Allegheny Woodrat. This includes managing the property’s forest which, in addition to providing critical wildlife habitat, recharges local water supplies and harbors an unnamed creek that flows into the Susquehanna River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

The new preserve will be a treat to bird enthusiasts due to Cove Mountain’s prime location along Pennsylvania’s Kittatinny Ridge. The Ridge is part of the Atlantic Flyway and considered to be one of the premier raptor migration corridors in the northeastern U.S., if not the world. Stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south and the Catskill Mountains to the north, the Kittatinny spans 185 miles of forested ridgetop that serves as important feeding and resting spots for thousands of Broad-winged, Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned hawks migrating through during Fall, as well as more than 30 species of warblers during Spring migration.

A unique highlight of our work since acquiring the Cove Mountain property is the transformation of a network of former logging roads into hiking trails that will provide public access to scenic views of the Susquehanna River and the Rockville Bridge—a railroad bridge built in 1902 and the longest of its kind in the world. We will also open the property to hunting through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Public Access Cooperator Program and Deer Management Assistance Program. Our forestry needs on the property will be centered around forest health and wildlife, with a primary focus over the next 10-20 years on invasive species management. Recreational activities will occur on legacy logging roads and skid trails and is very compatible with our forest and wildlife management objectives.

It is always exciting to conserve nature in Pennsylvania—and even more so when it falls within your own backyard. Protecting this 353-acre property on Central Pennsylvania’s Cove Mountain represents everything we aim to achieve when creating a new nature preserve: it benefits local wildlife—including migrating birds, cleans air and water, stores carbon and, most importantly, connects people with the great outdoors. Stay tuned for a formal announcement about the Cove Mountain Preserve’s grand opening later in 2017!