The Lancaster Conservancy (“the Conservancy”) announced Friday that it has acquired a 130-acre tract of forested land in Lower Chanceford Township, York County. This wooded tract includes waterfalls, streams, upland forest, and meadows and was part of a property formally known as Camp Donegal. The current owners, Mill Creek Falls Retreat, put the tract up for sale in 2021 and a developer stepped forward with plans to dramatically expand the rental of small homes and trailers across the property. Development of this forested land would have impacted several acres of wetlands and Mud and Mill Creeks that flow through the property and into the Susquehanna River. The viewshed of the Susquehanna and its iconic steep forested banks, home to multiple regional trails as well as parks, preserves, and game lands, were threatened. “The Conservancy Board sprang into action submitting a winning bid to save this tract,” said Conservancy President Phil Wenger. “For us, this property was critical to protect. It’s as beautiful as Tucquan Glen, with acres of rhododendron and mountain laurel. It needed to become a nature preserve with trails for everyone to enjoy.”
The Conservancy has since secured approval for a subdivision which will divide and transfer the portion of the property that includes cabins and dining hall structures to a new owner while allowing the Conservancy to retain the natural areas of the property for permanent conservation.
Thanks to generous funding from York County and private donors, as well as a grant application submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR), the Conservancy is on its way towards raising $1.5 million in funds for this project. “The community wins when non-profit organizations like the Conservancy and public funds from the county and state come together to protect land for recreation and our community’s open space is expanded,” said York County Commissioner Doug Hoke.
Support is still needed to cover the full cost of acquisition and stewardship for the property. The Conservancy expects to open the preserve in the next several months and has plans to add a universal access trail in addition to other hiking opportunities.
This property is adjacent to the scenic Mason Dixon Trail, which travels 199 miles from the Appalachian Trail in the west to the Brandywine River in the east. It is also just downstream from the Conservancy’s McCalls Ferry Nature Preserve and upstream from their Conowingo Pond Nature Preserve as well as Brookfield Renewable’s Lock 12 recreation area. This new public nature preserve will provide the community with outdoor passive recreation opportunities while protecting critical water resources, streamside habitat, steep slopes, and interior forests.
The Lancaster Conservancy is an accredited land trust, founded in 1969, and manages over 8,046 acres and owns 49 nature preserves for the public to hike and enjoy 365 days per year. The Conservancy’s efforts in York County are centered around the Susquehanna Riverlands, a PA DCNR designated Conservation Landscape, which includes lands that fall within the York and Lancaster County municipalities that border the river. To date, the Conservancy has protected 5,459 acres in the Susquehanna Riverlands, of which 2,025 acres are in York County. With the acquisition of this new 130 acre tract, the Conservancy’s number of nature preserves in York County will climb to nine. “The Conservancy has been working to try to protect this critical link in the Susquehanna Riverlands landscape for a number of years and we are thrilled that we were successful,” said Kate Gonick, Senior VP of Land Protection and General Counsel.
“Unchecked development is putting pressure on our fragmented natural landscape,” said Wenger. “We are in a race against time to strategically set aside those natural places that are critical for habitat, clean water, and public recreation before we lose them forever.”
To donate or learn more about the Conservancy’s land protection efforts, hiking trails, educational programming, and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.lancasterconservancy.org.
Photos by Jenn Teson