PLEASE NOTE: Susquehanna Riverlands State Park is owned and operated by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Please visit PA DCNR’s webpage for more information, such as a map, emergency information, parking directions, and PA DCNR contact numbers and emails for questions and concerns: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/SusquehannaRiverlandsStatePark/Pages/default.aspx
Today, Lancaster Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) stood with Governor Tom Wolf to announce that the almost 1,100 acres in Hellam Township, York County, which the Conservancy had placed under an agreement to purchase earlier this year, are to become Pennsylvania’s newest state park.
This new state park in York County, with a working name of Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, as well as the Conservancy’s two existing nature preserves, make up the Hellam Hills Conservation Area and protect a combined 2,100 acres of contiguous forests – preserving the last large, wooded area along the Susquehanna River between the cities of Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster.
Friends, this is a momentous accomplishment and an incredible testament to the hard work and partnership it takes to conserve our treasured landscape. I want to celebrate and share with you how we got to this moment.
A REMARKABLE STORY IN CONSERVATION
The Conservancy’s efforts in York County are centered around the Susquehanna Riverlands, a PA DCNR designated conservation landscape, which consists of lands that fall within the York and Lancaster County municipalities that border the river. The Conservancy has been leading an effort to protect this wooded gorge for five decades, acquiring and owning nearly 5,500 acres of land in several marquee nature preserves including Tucquan Glen, Shenks Ferry, Otter Creek, Turkey Hill, and Kellys Run.
In 2017, a 700-acre parcel was liquidated by the Marietta Gravity Water Company in the Hellam Hills of York County, a critical wooded area that stretches north from Route 30 along the west bank of the river. The Conservancy acquired this land and over the last four years added seven additional properties, including Wizard Ranch, protecting over 1,000 acres in total within this priority region called the Hellam Hills Conservation Area.
In March of 2022, we announced a sales agreement to acquire an additional over 1,000-acre parcel where the Codorus and Susquehanna meet, adjacent to our existing nature preserves. In June, the PA DCNR, a major funder of the Conservancy’s acquisitions, proposed they acquire, rather than grant funds to help the Conservancy acquire, the property and asked us to partner with them to create a new state park. A proposal was presented by PA DCNR to Governor Tom Wolf and House Appropriations Chair, Stan Saylor—both of York County—and as budget negotiations wrapped up, this new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park became a reality.
The Conservancy had worked tirelessly with the owners of this large tract to secure a sales agreement in alignment with the appraised value of approximately $11 million. All the due diligence, surveying, and negotiations to prepare the property for protection were done by the Conservancy.
The Conservancy’s goal, as the external leader of the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, is to preserve the natural lands of this iconic landscape in perpetuity – preserving wildlife habitat, protecting water resources and air quality, and creating a natural area for public recreation along the Susquehanna. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who owns the land, as long as it is protected and cared for, forever.
This is a remarkable story in conservation. In five short years, over 2,000 acres have been acquired and protected by the Conservancy in Hellam Township. Transferring the ownership of 1,000 of those acres to PA DCNR to become our Commonwealth’s newest state park creates a strong partnership that will benefit the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape in important ways.
CONSERVANCY REACHES 10,000 ACRES PERMANENTLY PROTECTED
I need to pause here and celebrate another remarkable moment. With the acquisition, protection, and transfer of this property to state parks, the Conservancy will now have helped protect over 10,000 acres of natural land, forever. This is a major milestone in this organization’s over 50-year history that we all should be proud of! My heartfelt gratitude goes out to past and current board and land protection committee members, staff, volunteers, and of course you, our dedicated supporters.
This milestone is because of the skills of the talented and professional staff of this organization. It is one of many milestones we anticipate going forward as we increase the pace of land protection in our race against environmental challenges like habitat loss and climate change. Our partnership with DCNR is vital to our success in protecting the Lower Susquehanna.
THE STRENGTH OF PARTNERSHIPS
Conservation needs both public and private organizations to partner to ensure our natural world doesn’t disappear before our eyes. By working side by side, York County, DCNR and the Conservancy are creating a landscape that future generations will benefit from for years to come.
The Conservancy’s strength as a nonprofit land trust includes the ability to fundraise and bring private money to conservation – investing those funds in saving natural lands, restoring wildlife habitat, and engaging the public in environmental stewardship. PA DCNR brings public dollars to the table and can provide a large array of visitor services and amenities, from restrooms to rangers, who can help manage increased visitation and offer enforcement. York County brings planning and resources to support our work.
Both the Conservancy, York County and PA DCNR share a deep commitment to conservation. This new state park will benefit from the Conservancy’s recently completed Hellam Hills Conservation Area master planning process, which identified habitat improvements, restoration initiatives, and infrastructure to expand public access.
Both York and Lancaster Counties, PA DCNR, and the Conservancy have made major commitments to the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape. Over the last decade, about $25 million has been invested in clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation opportunities by protecting the forested hills of the lower Susquehanna River.
As we work together, our joint planning will include a new Public Recreation Plan for the Susquehanna Riverlands. The river and its natural resources are a treasure that locals and visitors alike will enjoy. We are also working closely across the entire landscape to integrate all publicly accessible landowners (think county parks, state game lands, utilities, and municipalities) and work together to protect and manage this landscape as one.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Transferring land to a public government entity is a rare occasion for the Conservancy, but not unprecedented. Chickies Rock, East Donegal Riverfront Park, and Pinnacle Overlook all represent properties the Conservancy protected that are now owned and managed by the county and state. By transferring this property to PA DCNR, the Conservancy can free up funds to go after the many other acquisition opportunities that are currently on the table, knowing this critical wooded tract is protected, forever.
Our work doesn’t stop with this announcement. We will continue to protect open space, build trails, and create opportunities for hunting and recreation. We are in a race against time and only by joining together, with public and private resources working across the landscape, will we achieve the success future generations rely on.
With sincere thanks,