Mountain Conservation Expands in Central PA

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Sunset over Cove Mtn. as seen from the Dauphin Borough riverfront, 2016. The new preserve will be on the mountain to the photo’s left.

On Feb. 14, The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter announced it had acquired 353 acres on Cove Mountain in Perry County for protection as a nature preserve that will be open to the public in the fall.

The announcement signals a new focus from the conservation group to protect the Kittattinny Ridge in Pennsylvania, a name for the eastern mountain of the ridge and valley Appalachians that carries the Appalachian Trail through the state. Kittattinny is a name more often applied to the ridge in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, it’s often known as Blue Mountain.

Cove Mountain Preserve, as the new preserve will be known, will offer passive recreation (hiking, boating, biking, nature watching) and hunting when it opens to the public, said Josh Parrish, the conservancy‘s working woodlands director in the state. The group plans to develop hiking trails on the mountain above Marysville and Perdix. The trails will eventually offer visitors access to the mountain’s unique features and scenic views of the Susquehanna River Valley.

The preserve will be on the southeastern end of Cove Mountain from US Route 11/15 to about a mile west on the ridge, and down each side of the mountain to Marysville and the village of Perdix in Penn Township. Cove Mountain is so named because it’s a giant V shape with a cove of woodlands and agricultural land in its cove along the river.

I live in Dauphin, across the river from the new preserve and have often looked gawked at the mountain with interest. Especially in the winter when trees are bare, you can spy the rocky outcroppings at the top of the mountain. I always wondered what they were actually like, and had wanted to explore the mountain.

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A panoramic view of Cove Mtn.’s southeastern end (center) as seen from Dauphin across the river, 2016. The mountain at center will be protected in the new Cove Mountain Preserve.

In speaking with Parrish for a story about the preserve for the Perry County Times, I mentioned my love of backpacking and rock climbing. Parrish, who hails from Perry County, confirmed there are boulders and some cliffs on the mountain that could be recreation sites for central Pennsylvania’s climbing community.

This entire announcement is exciting. Many of Pennsylvania’s iconic mountains have radio towers and residential development on them. The conservancy’s purchase means one of the region’s beautiful ridges won’t be added to that roster of developed mountains. The conservancy is also part of a broader coalition to protect the Kittattiny Ridge.

In doing so, it could be a force to bring the economic power of outdoors people to a region of Pennsylvania where local communities have been searching for years to bolster local business. Marysville and Penn Twp. are two of those communities where economics have been a significant discussion point. In the nature preserve, and the traffic of people visiting it, those communities very well could find an economic force that was overlooked for too long.

AOJ’s masthead photograph is of Cove Mtn. above Marysville as seen from Rockville, Dauphin County, 2012.

Last year, President Barack Obama had directed his administration to begin measuring the economic value of outdoor recreation on federal lands. Prior to that directive, federal land was only measured by its exploitative values or the value of park visitation. The greater economic outdoor impact was overlooked or outright ignored. While it’s yet to be seen whether the Trump administration will embrace that economic force (it doesn’t look like it will), the industry has already outlined its importance to the American economy. And that impact is staggering.

According to a story in Outside magazine, the most recent number for what Americans and others spend on the outdoor industry is $646 billion. That’s more than we spend on pharmaceuticals, cars and parts, combined, according to the story. What’s most important to this discussion is that the people spending such money also spend in the communities bordering recreational destinations like Cove Mountain Preserve.

I know. I do it. Every time I go backpacking, my friends and I stop at a local bar/restaurant and drop between $60 and $120 on food and beer. We also gas up our cars and buy snacks and other items at local stores. I’m sure our money is appreciated in those small mountain towns. The smiles and warm conversation we receive certainly says it is. Also, I’m from communities like these. The towns of the Catskill and Pocono mountains also rely on outdoor recreation for their livelihood. Milford, Pa., experiences downtown gridlock in the summer as people from New York and New Jersey venture to it as a jumping off point for Delaware River and other adventures.

Click here to see a map of Cove Mtn. Preserve.

While the Cove Mountain Preserve alone is unlikely to garner billions of dollars for economically troubled communities like Penn Twp. or Duncannon Borough, it certainly will attract some people to Perry County’s communities. And they will spend money, even if only in transit. That should not be overlooked, and it can be one piece of an economic solution for these communities. Ask the Duncannon businesses about what it’s like in town during the summer hiking season on the Appalachian Trail, which runs straight through the borough after coming down off Cove Mountain. Those businesses, such as The Doyle Hotel, rely heavily on the income from AT hikers.

So, to my wandering, climbing, fly-fishing, bird-watching brethren: Don’t just hike the AT or stroll along Cove Mountain logging birds in your journal. Stop in these communities for lunch, gas up the car, buy some locally made art and novelties. We can talk all we want about the economic benefits of conservation, but we also need to show these communities it’s a real thing.

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