EDITORIAL: Keeping the wild spaces

York Dispatch

York County has a lot of natural spaces.

After all, there are three state parks in the county. We have 11 county parks, four state game lands and countless township, borough and city parks.

Kiwanis Lake in York City is designated an important bird area by the Audubon Society, one of 85 in the state and the only urban site that sees nesting egrets and herons each summer.

Private land near Codorus State Park is home to some of the most famous bald eagles in the world, with the state Game Commission running a live stream of the nest each year.

The Lancaster County Conservancy is saving nearly 1,000 acres in northern York County which will become the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve. Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

And there is a lot more private land that isn't developed. Just look around — there are clumps of trees and underbrush in many spaces, especially near creeks and on steep hills.

And yet ...

Truly wild spaces are hard to find. The state parks have roads, trails, buildings and even disc golf courses. County parks range from the minimally developed P. Joseph Raab County Park and Apollo County Park to the soccer fields, track and observatory of John Rudy County Park.  

More:Nearly 1,000 acres of wilderness in York County to become nature preserve

Township parks are built out to provide recreation spaces for residents, with trails and pavilions interspersed among baseball fields, basketball courts, amphitheaters and playgrounds. 

And while the development boom of the early 2000s came to a halt during the Great Recession, some areas are starting to see construction again, and forests are once again threatened by chainsaws and bulldozers.

The Lancaster County Conservancy decided it wasn't going to let that happen to one swath of land just across the river in York County.

The map shows the tracts of land that will become the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve in northeastern York County.

The conservancy is creating the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve, a parcel of about 1,000 acres in Hellam Township, north of Accomac Road, by buying the land and leaving it as it is.

"It has a tremendous wild feel to it, which you can’t really find in most of the natural lands that exist here in central Pennsylvania," said Philip Wenger, CEO of the Lancaster County Conservancy. "I just thought it would be a shame if we lost this to some kind of a major subdivision or housing project."

The land includes the Wizard Ranch Boy Scout Camp, being bought from the New Birth of Freedom Boy Scout Council. It also includes a 101-acre site that had been marketed and approved for a subdivision, but Bob Kinsley of Kinsley Construction bought the land and held it while the conservancy secured funding to buy it.

The Mason-Dixon Trail runs through the site, but otherwise, the land is in its natural state. No roads, no paved areas, no buildings.

The new nature preserve will be open to the public next year, but it won't have much in the way of amenities. The LCC plans to have some trails that meet requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act, observation decks by the Susquehanna River and some other trails. And that's it. 

"For those of us who are passionate about trying to protect the land, we really look for these opportunities where there’s large areas — not just 30 acres here or 50 acres there," Wenger said. "We can really set the land aside and let the trees get very old and let the animals have a place that they can live."

The LCC is talking with owners of property near the site and hopes the preserve will end up being nearly 2,000 acres. 

Preserving that much wilderness area in York County is a tremendous benefit for all the inhabitants of the county, human and otherwise. Well done.