Linn Conservancy takes action to preserve more land

Susan Warner-Mills and Geoff Goodenow of the Linn Conservancy stand across the Susquehanna River from where the conservancy purchased land north of the Shikellamy State Park overlook.

SHAMOKIN DAM — The Merrill Linn Conservancy has purchased 36 acres of ecologically significant land on the Shikellamy Bluffs adjacent to the Shikellamy State Park as part of the conservancy’s Linking Landscapes Initiative that seeks to protect open spaces for wildlife and watersheds to maintain high-quality water resources.

The goal, according to conservancy President Susan Warner-Mills, is eventually to convey the property to the state so that it can become a part of the Shikellamy State Park, which protects 160 acres adjacent to the bluffs.

“The acquisition of an additional 36 acres is an opportunity to link landscapes and protect the land forever from private development,” Warner-Mills said. “It would enlarge the natural area protected by Shikellamy State Park by 18 percent.”

The Shikellamy Bluffs transaction was financed through a grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority and donations from philanthropic organizations, businesses and individual donors. The balance was covered by a loan from the Mifflinburg Bank & Trust Co. Once it is paid off with future appreciable funds, the land will be handed over to the state.

The property, formerly owned by Richard and Miranda McGinnis, of Lewisburg, is an area of multi-tiered native forests with a canopy of red oak, chestnut oak, American basswood, red maple, sugar maple and Virginia pine, among other natives. It is a habitat for mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Protection of the property’s forest is in accordance with the goals of both the Union County Comprehensive Plan and the Chesapeake Executive Council’s directive on protecting forests, Warner-Mills said.

The 360-foot shale cliffs on the eastern side of the property are home to two plant species and one bird species of special concern. The cliffs also offer breath-taking views of the confluence of the West Branch and the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, Warner-Mills said.

She said the acquisition has been made possible by the support and partnership of local and county government agencies, conservation organizations and individuals.

“I want to thank the Linn Conservancy board members for their tireless commitment to this project and the Commonwealth Financing Authority, whose initial grant made possible all of our subsequent successes,” Warner-Mills said.

Other people and organizations that made the purchase possible include the Union County commissioners, the Union County Planning Department, the Degenstein Foundation, PPL, state Rep. Fred Keller, R-85, of Kreamer, state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, of Williamsport, the Union Township supervisors, Mifflinburg Bank and Trust, Coldwell Banker Penn One Real Estate, attorney Tom Clark and staff and many individual donors.

“Just as so many of our 120 state parks across the state are known for their own unique natural resources, many of those parks truly shine because of the unique contributions of dedicated groups like the Merrill Linn Conservancy,” said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “Almost 40 acres protected as parkland have been added to offer breath-taking views and a haven for birds and plants of special concern.”

The Bureau of State Parks appreciates the support and assistance of all involved in the project, Dunn said.

The Linking Landscapes Initiative is a core component of the conservancy’s strategic plan and was the inspiration of the conservancy’s coordinator, Geoff Goodenow.

“The initiative recognizes that viable habitat, both land and water, is critical to the survival of all organisms,” he said. “As forests, wetlands, open spaces, waterways and other habitats are converted to human uses, the remaining natural landscapes become fragmented and isolated. When species lose both their natural habitat and the ability to move between regions to use all of the resources they need to survive, biodiversity is threatened.”

The Linn Conservancy and its affiliate, the Buffalo Creek Watershed Alliance, are working to establish and maintain connections in the landscape in order to enhance the resilience of protected areas and to slow the loss of biodiversity.

This long-term strategic initiative examines existing ecological connections among the region’s protected areas and seeks to establish new connections among those sites regardless of whether they are protected by public ownership, foundation ownership, agricultural preservation or Linn Conservancy conservation easements.

“The bottom line is that developing and maintaining landscape connections is central to the conservancy’s efforts,” Goodenow said.

The Merrill W. Linn Land and Waterways Conservancy is a volunteer organization, founded in 1988 to honor the memory of local attorney and outdoorsman Merrill Linn. It has helped protect 18 properties, totaling more than 1,200 acres. These include such popular sites as the Dale-Engle-Walker property, Glacier Pools Preserve in Lycoming County, the Koons property and trail in Mifflinburg and the Shamokin Mountain Trail off Forest House Lane in Union Township.

The conservancy’s mission is to preserve and protect ecologically significant sites in Union, northern Northumberland and contiguous counties and to educate the public on conservation issues critical to the health of the environment.

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