WILKES-BARRE — To preserve its pristine environment, the Bear Creek Village community pulled together to protect a forest that may have been cleared for townhomes.
To honor the conservation efforts, the North Branch Land Trust — a nonprofit dedicated to preserving land and natural resources — presented project organizers with its Community Stewardship Award at the organization’s 20th anniversary dinner Wednesday at the Westmoreland Club.
When 139 acres adjacent to Bear Creek Lake off Route 115 hit the market, one resident said most of the community grew concerned.
“We knew there was potential to develop it,” said Bob Smith, a homeowner. “A group of people came up with the money back in 2006. The idea was to preserve as much of it as possible.”
Smith said initially buyers wanted to sell a portion of the property to recoup some of their investment. About 65 acres was conserved first in 2007 with the intent to sell off the other 74, according to a North Branch document. Smith said the general opinion slowly changed.
“As the community became more and more aware of it … they realized they would prefer to have the entire (139) acres set aside,” Smith said.
Borough Council President Kathy Lawrence said the intent was to preserve the untouched lakeside forest.
“It was important to keep the character and the pristine environment that is so unique to Bear Creek Village,” Lawrence said.
While Bear Creek Lake and its beach areas belong to the homeowners association, the preserved land now belongs to the land trust and is open for the public to enjoy, Lawrence said.
Two concerned homeowners, Bob Lawrence, Kathy’s husband, and John Parsons, knew they could get the conservation-minded villagers to back the cause because, around 11 years ago, the community got behind the Bear Creek Dam’s reconstruction after it was destroyed in a flood, Smith said.
He said when the dam needed to be reconstructed, the community wanted the timber bridge to retain its historical aesthetics, but it had to meet state standards and everyone chipped in to see the project through.
Fundraising continued with help from North Branch for about three years, Smith said, until summer of 2012, when the community turned ownership of the remaining 74 acres over to the trust. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources matched fundraising efforts to buy out the property priced at $575,000, North Branch Executive Director Paul Lumia said.