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Conservation Easements: Reflections

Thursday was a very reaffirming day.  I started in Springfield Township, Bucks County talking with a landowner who established their Conservation Easement in 2003.  At that time he and his wife felt that much of the open space in their township was ripe for development.  They worried that the loss of so much open space would change the whole character of their community.  So, they made the commitment to put a conservation easement on their property.  They would try to set the example, and be able to answer questions for others that might be interested.  When we met Thursday, he was very proud to tell me that two of his neighbors had recently established conservation easements, and a third was seriously considering it.  That is a sizeable block of land that is now protected.  He was even more proud to announce that the township now is about 17% protected.  Sometimes it just takes a few dedicated people to get the ball rolling.

My next easement was in Williams Township, Northampton County.  The couple there had been instrumental in getting their neighbors to put an easement on their large property.  Afterwards, they realized that by putting an easement on their own property, they would be expanding the block of open space.  They just felt it was the right thing to do.

My final monitoring visit was in Haycock Township, Bucks County. This is a brand new easement, located near Lake Nockamixon State Park.  The couple bought the property 40 years ago, and built their house about 20 years ago.  They just love the property which is a forested boulder field and protects two tributaries of the Tohickon Creek.  They were also enthusiastic about the process of protecting their property.  Again I heard, “It was just the right thing to do.”  (I wonder how their commitment will affect the map of open space in the future.)

Wood Sculptures

More discoveries while monitoring Conservation Easements are the interesting things that happen to trees.  I can explain the natural forces behind these (unlike the Escarpments and Monoliths), but I choose not to this time.  Sometimes wonder isn’t made better with an explanation.

Escarpments and Monoliths

One of the interesting features on many of my easements are Monoliths and Escarpments.  I don’t understand, nor can I explain the geologic forces which caused these formations to form.  I am, however, fascinated by them.  Some look perfectly cleaved.    

Many hold pools on top that eventually work their way over the face to form waterfalls. 

Other house-sized cubes stand by themselves in the middle of the forest.

Just one more wonder of protected landscapes.



In an earlier entry I said that I would post some of my discoveries while monitoring easements.  I connect with these properties personally, and I will do my best to convey that through words and photos.  While you may never explore a protected property, it is worthwhile supporting NLT’s mission.  Conservation easements and Preserves protect water, forest and wildlife resources.  We all live downstream, so they do affect our quality of life, even if we don’t experience them first hand.  Wilderness is a commodity that decreases in supply every single day.


Whether it is water dripping out of a suspended coffee can or Niagara Falls, there is something about the sound of falling water that captivates us.  Recently while monitoring easements in the Poconos, I came across several waterfalls. 

Some were just trickles over a stone, and some were streams over a rock face 30 feet high.  Some started from an ephemeral pond that will go dry in the summer.  Some started from wetlands that filter water and provide wildlife habitat all year.

Pocono Easement Monitoring

I monitored easements in Pike County this week.  Like Dan, I am humbled by the generosity of the people who conserve their properties with a Conservation Easement.  I also feel privileged to interact with the landowners when I monitor these properties once a year.  These landowners protected their property because it was special; usually to them personally and in the larger ecological context.  Since most of my easements are still owned by the people that established them, they have a vested interest.  They are comforted that Natural Lands Trust will continue to provide the protection for their beloved properties when they are no longer there to be the property’s spokesperson.

The two properties I monitored on Thursday were established, in part, to protect the water resources of creeks and tributaries that will eventually empty into the Delaware River.  They have steep hemlock slopes shading the streams, along with several wetlands and ephemeral pools.  Both have massive rock outcrops, and rich forests.  For me personally, these are worth preserving on a spiritual level alone.  They are that beautiful.  The conservation value is equally priceless.  I heard a Barred Owl, saw deer, turkeys, ducks and a Bald Eagle while monitoring these properties.  Every year as I drive to the easement there are more new houses along the way, so the water resources and wildlife habitat that they will continue to protect are genuinely significant.

I will be sharing more photos from my monitoring foray in the future.  Hopefully, readers will be able to get a sense of my admiration for these special properties.

Schuylkill Center Preserved

The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is an oasis of nature in the city of Philadelphia. The Center’s property boasts nesting populations of rare bird species like the Blue-winged Warbler, trees believed to be more than 250 years old, and two of the last naturally occurring headwater streams in the city. And now, thanks to a conservation easement with Natural Lands Trust, this oasis is protected in perpetuity.

Founded in 1965, The Schuylkill Center was one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country. Located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia on agricultural land that was farmed until the mid-1960’s, the Center has grown from the 11 acres originally gifted by its founders: Lawrence M. C. Smith, Mrs. Lawrence M. C. Smith, Mrs. Robert R. Meigs, and Henry H. H. Meigs. The property contains diverse habitats including woodlands, meadows, five ponds, and wetlands. Four miles of hiking trails, public programs for all ages, school programs, and teacher workshops attract a multitude of visitors to the Center.

“It would be difficult to overstate the significance of preserving 325 acres of open space in Philadelphia,” notes Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “This really is a historic moment for the city. We are grateful to The Schuylkill Center’s Board of Trustees for having the foresight to ensure that this wonderful resource is preserved for future generations.”


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