If you’ve been reading these weekly posts, you are aware that the combination of our beautiful spring weather and the COVID-19 crisis has produced a large influx of visitors to our preserves. We had to make the painful decision to close the Tucquan Glen Pyfer Nature Preserves parking area and to send a message to all of you last week contrary to our normal position – please stay at home and explore nature in your own backyard instead of traveling to visit our preserves. While these decisions were painful, they were also painfully obvious. According to our rangers, our preserves are seeing three to four times the number of visitors compared to last year and damage is already being done to some of our most fragile lands.
We still believe that if we nurture nature, nature nurtures us in return. We remain passionate about the benefits of getting out into the woods to restore and heal our minds, bodies, and souls. However, we see with new clarity that there are not nearly enough of natural, wild, and open places into which all of us can escape. This crisis has made it even more clear that our local supply of open space does not meet the demands of our community, let alone nature.
Short term, we need to deal with the crowds. We doubled the number of rangers who patrol and visit preserves on the weekends and holidays. We used signs at our trailheads and social media to enhance our pleas to leave no trace, pick up trash, be respectful, and stay safe. And next week, thanks to a generous donor who is willing to match donations, we will ask you, our friends and members, to honor Arbor Day as well as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the Conservancy by helping us cover this extra stewardship burden with an online gift. This will be the first time we have asked for your financial support since this crisis began.
Long term, we expect to “double down” and accelerate our land protection and restoration efforts. Over the last four years, we acquired over 1,800 acres of natural lands, mostly in the Susquehanna Riverlands, increasing, by a third, the amount of land we manage for recreation and habitat. We expanded some of our most popular preserves, including Tucquan Glen, Welsh Mountain, Climbers Run, and Kellys Run. We created entire new preserves along the Susquehanna River in York County. These are remarkable achievements.
But as this crisis highlights, our past efforts are not nearly enough for us nor the flora and fauna whose habitat development continues to destroy. This crisis demands a much wider call to action to elevate, not slow down, our work. We must accelerate our mission to Protect and Restore Nature because we are running out of time. Our lands lost to housing and development far outstrip the land we protect as a community and as a result land protection cannot slide into a recession, or what is lost will be so much more than forests and streams.
THE VALUE OF FOCUSED TEAM WORK
In order to fight a battle like the one created by this crisis; you FIRST need a strong army. The Conservancy’s Board decided that our employees’ health and well-being come first. We committed to keeping full employment with no layoffs. This important message helped the team rally together, not only for survival, but to deal with crowds and additional challenges. We worked harder and smarter during the first month of this crisis. We adapted and learned new technology and created new tools, including an app that we use to monitor visitor activity. The speed of change is remarkable. This team is energized dealing with the crisis unfolding before us. We are confident that any team that survives these initial battles is ready to take on the larger mission that lies ahead.
We recognize that you are part of our conservation army as well, and you have shown your own support for our efforts in many ways for which we are extremely grateful.
This crisis is teaching all of us if we are willing to listen. This crisis is motivating us to act boldly and focus our energy to move beyond merely surviving, into a renewed call to our mission. This crisis is forcing us to change and improve, evolving some of our longest held perceptions and means of working.
The Conservancy, along with the entire world, is on a life-changing journey, and we thank you for traveling on this journey with us.
Phil Wenger, President
Cover photo by Kerry Givens at Reed Run Nature Preserve