MOCANAQUA — When state Sen. John Yudichak and state Rep. Gerald Mullery were growing up, they used to play in the shadow of the Avondale Mine area and the Plymouth flats.
The two legislators, both 43 and friends since boyhood, are familiar with the landscape that Friday became part of the Enhance Penn’s Woods project — a two-year, more than $200 million initiative launched by Gov. Tom Corbett to repair and improve Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests.
“John and I have the coal chips in our knees to prove it,” Mullery, D-Newport Township, said. “And now we’re here today to preserve and reclaim mine-scarred land so our children and grandchildren will have pristine and maintained natural areas to enjoy.”
At a chilly news conference Friday on the banks of the Susquehanna River, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti announced the state will add more than 3,000 acres to the Lackawanna State Forest with the acquisition of the Mocanaqua tract in Conyngham, Newport and Slocum townships.
Ferretti said the state invested $4 million in funding derived from the Keystone Land Trust and Oil and Gas Lease through DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnerships Program to purchase the land. The North Branch Land Trust facilitated the purchase from the nonprofit Earth Conservancy, which agreed to sell the land at 50 percent of its worth.
Paul Lumia, executive director of the North Branch Land Trust, said the project goes above and beyond the protection of habitat for important plant and animal species.
“Protecting the Mocanaqua tract will make available to the public more than 3,000 acres for a host of passive recreation activities,” Lumia said. “The North Branch Land Trust hopes to build on this acquisition in an effort to launch future conservation projects along Penobscot ridge and the Susquehanna River with the ultimate goal being to build an uninterrupted greenway along the southern edge of the Wyoming Valley.”
Lumia and Ferretti explained that the property contains mostly forested acres. Along its northern boundary is the Susquehanna River and the southern boundary is adjacent to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Lily Lake recreation area. A portion of the property includes the Penobscot Mountain ridge top.
Ferretti said the acquisition is part of a vision to create a green corridor of 230,000 acres along the ridge line from Wayne County to Carbon County.
“Large forested blocks support plants and animals that are dependant on interior forest conditions including bird species, fishers, bobcats, northern goshawks and barred owls,” Ferretti said.
Lumia said the property will be available to the public for educational and recreational opportunities including hiking, cross country skiing and nature observation. He said there is a 15-mile loop trail on the property.
Yudichak said the Mocanaqua Mountain land that the grant will preserve is some of the most pristine land in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“I am thrilled to see the state investing to protect and conserve these treasured forest lands of Conyngham and Newport Townships,” Yudichak said. “The partnership forged by DCNR, the North Branch Land Trust and the Earth Conservancy is a shining example of how, through conservation, government can live up to the words of former Gov. Gifford Pinchot and do ‘the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time.’”
Yudichak noted that the North Branch Land Trust now has more than 15,000 acres under its stewardship and has become the region’s premier land trust. He also heaped praise on fellow county resident Ferretti, who lives in Dallas.
Yudichak also thanked Mike Dziak and the Earth Conservancy for returning “forgotten lands from the abyss of bankruptcy” to productive use.
He said the partnership forged by DCNR, the North Branch Land Trust and Earth Conservancy is “a shining example” of how, through conservation, government can protect treasured lands for generations to come.