Reading Eagle: “Berks County landmark hill preserved from development”
As you cross the Schuylkill River traveling east on Route 422 from Reading toward Pottstown, two hills rise above the horizon to the south: Gibraltar Hill and Seidel Hill.
Gibraltar Hill’s 234 acres in Robeson and Cumru townships were conserved by Natural Lands in 2014. The second mountain in Robeson Township, the 103-acre Seidel Hill, was recently preserved.
Natural Lands, a conservation organization based in Media, Delaware County, purchased Seidel Hill for $458,000 and transferred it to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry for $240,609 in March, Berks County records show. Natural Lands spent about $23,000 on legal, survey, staff, environmental audit, appraisal, appraisal review, title insurance and closing costs.
The property transfer marks a two-year effort to protect the land in Robeson from development. The process brought together federal and state funds to buy the property as an addition to the state forest system.
The land had been in the Seidel family since the 1840s. Jonathan Seidel said he had been approached a few years ago by a developer but was not interested in selling. He wanted to preserve it from development and keep the land natural and wild. He said the land has always been a haven for hunting and hiking.
On Sundays when Seidel was a boy, his mother would take him and some friends to the family’s wooded hill.
“We would hike around the hill, take a lunch and just enjoy it,” said Seidel, 73, of Royersford, Montgomery County.
Seidel, a retired plastics factory worker, is a woodworker who makes old style looms.
Seidel inherited the hill from his father, James Seidel, in 1984. The land can be traced to Reuben Seidel, son of Jonathan Seidel, who built and ran the Do-Well Forge in the area. The trees on the hill were was once used to make charcoal for iron furnaces and forges.
Seidel, who was raised a few miles away from the hill in Geigertown, last walked the area about two years ago. In addition to small game, he said there are wildflowers and wild mushrooms on the hill. He said the land can be a resource for the community.
“It’s nice to have open space, especially for people living in the Reading area,” Seidel said. “They can see the flowers, and the birds and everything.”
Seidel said the southern side of the mountain facing Geigertown is easy to climb, but the side facing Gilbraltar is rocky and steep.
“It’ll make you huff and puff,” he said.
When trees drop their leaves in winter, the hilltop provides stunning views of Reading and the surrounding area.
Seidel Hill lies within the Schuylkill Highlands, a DCNR-designated region at the nexus of two landscapes that have been prioritized for protection: the Highlands and the Schuylkill River Watershed.
Allegheny Creek winds around the base of Seidel Hill to the west as it makes its way to the Schuylkill River. Seidel Creek flows to the eastern base of the hill. Both waterways are popular fishing destinations.
The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) lists the presence of a threatened species on the hill, but details about which species are not publicized for their protection.
The Nature Conservancy lists the site as having above average climate change resilience, said Kirsten Werner, senior director of communications for Natural Lands.
Rick Harlieb, assistant district forest manager of the William Penn Forest District, said you can find basswood and sugar maple trees on Seidel Hill and Gibraltar Hill.
He said Seidel will eventually be open to hikers, but not horses or bikes. The only trails on the property are old logging paths. There hasn’t been much attention to trails for 20 years, he said. There will be a loop trail hand-cleared by crews in the future. The only access is from Old River Road, but it is not developed for parking vehicles.
Harlieb said Seidel and Gibraltar hills are separated by private land. The hope is someday to be able to have a trail connecting the two iconic hills.
“Seidel Hill is a powerful, visible reminder of how important open spaces are to us all,” Oliver Bass, Natural Lands president, said in a news release. “Under the Bureau of Forestry’s care, generations of Pennsylvanians will have the opportunity to explore its woods and enjoy the countless benefits of time spent in nature.”
In 2015, Natural Lands brokered a similar conservation outcome for the nearby Gibraltar Hill, which also was purchased by the nonprofit conservation organization and immediately transferred to the Bureau of Forestry’s William Penn Forest District.
“Never has the value of our state forestlands shined brighter than during this pandemic when more and more people are seeking out the calm of unspoiled places where streams flow clean and greenery abounds,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said in a statement.
“DCNR is proud to partner with Natural Lands to achieve yet another invaluable addition to its William Penn State Forest,” she said. “It’s all here at Seidel Hill— watershed protection, stunning vistas and increased public access protected for generations to come.”
Funding for preservation of Seidel Hill was provided by the U.S. Forest Service through the Highlands Conservation Act and DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnership Program.