It has been a work in progress since 2019, and now the Lancaster Conservancy is excited to announce that Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve is ready to welcome the public with two recently completed looping trails and a parking area while stewardship efforts continue.
The Conservancy acquired the over 200-acre nature preserve from the Boy Scouts of America in 2019, and since then, our Stewardship Team and volunteers have been working resolutely to remove invasive species from the preserve and prepare trails for visitors.
As determined in the Hellam Hills Conservation Area Master Plan, restoration of Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve has been a priority for the Conservancy. When we acquired the property, the unhealthy forests were suffering canopy collapse due to unchecked invasive plant and insect species.
Our Stewardship Team got to work right away to remove those invasive species. Stewardship staff and volunteers have trimmed and pulled plants like multiflora rose, bittersweet, and bush honeysuckle and used forestry mowers to reduce the impaired forest to a savanna-like habitat with native species such as oak, hickory, and pawpaw. And this year, we implemented the first-ever prescribed burn on a Conservancy preserve at Wizard Ranch to further manage the invasive plants growing there.
“Prescribed fire is an extremely versatile land management tool with a long history of use in Pennsylvania. Historically, prescribed fire was used frequently through the 18th century by the indigenous people of Pennsylvania to accomplish a wide variety of land management objectives. The reintroduction of prescribed fire to the landscape at Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve represents the first use of fire as a management tool in the 50-plus-year history of the Lancaster Conservancy,” said Lancaster Conservancy Forester Eric Roper.
The 18-acre prescribed burn prepared the soil for planting native understory and canopy trees while killing off the invasive species seed bank, allowing the Conservancy to now turn the corner to reforestation. We are looking forward to tree plantings on the preserve in 2023 and 2024, including one planting with thousands of Scouts during their weekend long celebration later this year.
While restoring Wizard Ranch to a healthy habitat for native species has been our priority, our Stewardship Team and volunteers have also been preparing trails around the preserve, including the two that are now open to the public!
“With the recent success of the prescribed burn, we are now ready to provide the first iteration of access and trails, which includes two loops of a planned 5-mile trail system. These trails will allow the public to enter, traverse, and experience the significant management changes at Wizard Ranch that have taken it from a heavily compromised ecosystem to now a nature preserve well on its way to restored habitat and recreational trails through robust investments of time, materials, and expertise by our staff, contractors, and volunteers,” said Brandon Tennis, Senior Vice President of Stewardship at the Lancaster Conservancy.
However, our work stewarding Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve – and the nearly 50 other nature preserves managed by the Lancaster Conservancy – is not done yet. More trails and amenities to assist in community education and engagement efforts are being developed at Wizard Ranch, and restoration efforts, including intensive work to restore the preserve’s wetlands, will be ongoing.
Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve is home to almost 100 bird species and around a dozen reptile and amphibian species. It includes wetland, stream, and upland habitats that are critical for local wildlife.
The land was donated to the Boy Scouts in 1960 by Mahlon N. Haines, nicknamed the “Shoe Wizard.” Haines’ extensive land holdings throughout York County included the Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve lands. He operated the land as a farm and had plans to build an estate home near the farm along Accomac Road. Haines was an avid supporter of scouting and starting in 1941, he hosted the “Haines Safari” for local scouts on his farmland in celebration of his birthday.
Haines passed away at the age of 87 in 1962. The New Birth of Freedom Council, Inc., started up the modern era of the “Wizard Safari” in 1987 and they have continued to hold the event quadrennially. The Boy Scouts hosted their most recent safari in the fall of 2019 and will continue to do so every few years now that the preserve is owned by the Conservancy.
Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve is part of the Hellam Hills Conservation Area, which runs from north of Wrightsville to the Codorus Creek and is the largest contiguous forest in the triangle between the cities of York, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. The conservation area currently includes the Conservancy’s Hellam Hills and Wizard Ranch nature preserves, as well the new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park that the Conservancy helped protect in 2022 – a total of over 2,000 acres of contiguous forests.
The Conservancy’s efforts in York County are centered around the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, a landscape designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources which consists of lands that fall within the York and Lancaster county municipalities that border the river. These critical forests along the Susquehanna River are in an area rich with history and natural resources including waterfalls, glens, and rocky cliffs.
Wizard Ranch visitors, please note that active habitat restoration, visitor amenity construction, trail rerouting, and development is underway following the recommendations of the Hellam Hills Conservation Area Master Plan. Please abide by any posted signs limiting visitor access on the preserve for your own safety and to ensure the ecological success of the multiple restoration projects happening at Wizard Ranch.
A Wizard Ranch Nature Preserve trail map and additional information can be found here.