New trails open at Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

York County residents have two new areas where they can commune with nature at the Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve in Hellam Township.

According to the Lancaster Conservancy, which acquired the 200-acre site from the Boy Scouts in 2019, the two looping trails leave a temporary parking area along an access road just off Accomac Road. 

Those who visit the trails should be mindful of posted signs that limit visitor access, the organization said. The nature preserve is still in the middle of an active habitat restoration, visitor amenity construction and trail rerouting. Observing posted signs will help ensure the success of the multiple restoration projects taking place. 

"We are now ready to provide the first iteration of access and trails, which includes two loops of a planned 5-mile trail system,” said Brandon Tennis, senior vice president of stewardship at the Lancaster Conservancy, in a written statement.

Tennis noted the efforts of the conservancy staff and volunteers to restore the local ecology. Volunteers have been working to remove invasive species from the preserve and prepare trails for visitors, he said. 

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As determined in the Hellam Hills Conservation Area Master Plan, restoration of Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve has been a priority for the conservancy. Unhealthy forests were suffering canopy collapse due to unchecked invasive plant and insect species, so steps have been taken to remove those invasive species. 

Staff and volunteers have trimmed and pulled plants like multiflora rose, bittersweet, and bush honeysuckle and used forestry mowers to reduce the impaired forest to a savanna-like habitat with native species such as oak, hickory, and pawpaw.  

Land Steward Mark Roberts, with Lancaster Conservancy, cuts limbs from a felled tree while clearing invasive plants in a section of Wizard Ranch in Hellam Township, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

A prescribed burn on at Wizard Ranch was used to further manage the invasive plants growing there. 

“Prescribed fire is an extremely versatile land management tool with a long history of use in Pennsylvania. Historically, prescribed fire was used frequently through the 18th century by the indigenous people of Pennsylvania to accomplish a wide variety of land management objectives,” Lancaster Conservancy Forester Eric Roper said, in a written statement. 

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The prescribed burn prepared the soil for planting. The conservancy is looking forward to tree plantings on the preserve in 2023 and 2024, including one planting involving thousands of Scouts. 

Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve is home to almost 100 bird species and around a dozen reptile and amphibian species. It includes wetland, stream, and upland habitats that are critical for local wildlife. 

The land was donated to the Boy Scouts in 1960 by Mahlon N. Haines, nicknamed the “Shoe Wizard”, for which the Wizard Ranch is named.