Land Conservation

ClearWater Conservancy’s Land Conservation Program seeks to conserve ecologically important habitats in Central Pennsylvania for all time. We believe people should be free to enjoy the land and its beauty and place a high value on public access and use.

Lands we want to conserve provide significant ecological function, are valuable habitats for wildlife, contain unique features or offer new recreational access.

Our primary methods for land conservation are conservation easement and land purchase.

In addition, we provide technical assistance and information to landowners who want to improve and manage habitats on their own property.

Conservation easement steward Doug Wion leads the cows in during a rain storm while on a monitoring visit to Nittany Farms. Photo by Bill Hilshey
Conservation easement steward Doug Wion leads the cows in during a rain storm while on a monitoring visit to Nittany Farms. Photo by Bill Hilshey
The Millbrook Marsh fen, located within the popular nature center operated by Centre Region Parks and Recreation, is owned by ClearWater Conservancy. Groundwater flows to the surface in the fen and enters the Spring Creek watershed.
The Millbrook Marsh fen, located within the popular nature center operated by Centre Region Parks and Recreation, is owned by ClearWater Conservancy. Groundwater flows to the surface in the fen and enters the Spring Creek watershed.
A misty view of Musser Gap. Photo by Matt Dallos
A misty view of Musser Gap. Photo by Matt Dallos
A spring erupts from the forest floor. Photo by Matt Dallos
A spring erupts from the forest floor. Photo by Matt Dallos
Hikers on a wintry stroll up Musser Gap. Photo by Chris Hennessey.
Hikers on a wintry stroll up Musser Gap. Photo by Chris Hennessey.

Vernal pools a treasure to protect

By Katie Mann

Snow melt and rising water tables in the spring fill depressions in the forest floor with water that dry up over the summer and may fill again with autumn rains. These seasonal, or vernal, pools are critical breeding grounds for rare and common toads, frogs, and salamanders.

Seasonal pools have no permanent surface inlet or outlet and retain water due to their impermeable soils. Because of the periodic drying and isolation from other bodies of water, fish do not live in the pools. Since fish are voracious predators of tadpoles and aquatic salamander larvae, many amphibian species rely on seasonal pools to lay their eggs.

Seasonal Pool Species

Here in Pennsylvania, eastern spadefoot toads, wood frogs, marbled, spotted, and Jefferson salamanders and springtime fairy shrimp need seasonal pool species for survival. They require seasonal pools for breeding to survive generation to generation.

Other amphibians and reptiles such as red spotted newt, northern spring peeper, and American toads may also breed in seasonal pools.

Wood turtles, spotted turtles, and snapping turtles often use seasonal pools for feeding and resting spots as they travel through the forest.

The Connection with Upland Forest Habitat

Seasonal pool amphibians live most of the year buried underground in the moist soil of the surrounding upland forests to survive the dry summers and freezing winters. When the snow begins to melt and spring rains begin, adult amphibians emerge from underground and embark on mass migrations. These animals can travel over 1000 feet through surrounding forested habitat in order to return to the seasonal pool where they were born (Brown and Jung, 2005). Similarly, some amphibians, such as the red spotted newt, also make mass migrations in the late summer to upland forests where they hibernate.

Human Conflict

Seasonal pool inhabitants are sensitive to habitat alternation and loss. For instance, grading, tree removal and mowing around vernal pools lead to dry and compacted soil conditions that are uninhabitable by vernal pool amphibians and make breeding migrations more difficult. Felled forests around seasonal pools also cause brighter light conditions that lead to increased algal growth in pools. Run-off from lawn or farm fertilizers leads to increased algal growth in pools due to increased nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous), while run-off from pesticides and road salts can decrease survival and overall health of tadpoles and salamander larvae.

Furthermore, on rainy spring and summer nights, high car traffic on roads that cross amphibian migration routes can lead to hundreds of frogs, toads, and salamanders being killed in a single night.

During wet spring nights thousands of amphibians cross our local roads. State Game Lands 176 (Scotia Barrens) houses many vernal pools and at least one concentrated amphibian crossing area has been identified within the Scotia Barrens. ClearWater Conservancy has joined with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to raise awareness of migrating amphibians within State Game Lands 176 by posting signs at the entrances to the Scotia Barrens and at a known concentrated crossing area

How can you help?

1. When you notice crossing signs  or notice an abundance of amphibians crossing a road, please use alternative routes during rainy nights in March, April, August and September.

2. Help conserve seasonal pools and their surrounding woodlands. When land is development is being planned (even parkland), ensure that BOTH the seasonal pool and the amphibian habitat surrounding the pools are protected.

3. Protect vernal pools on your property. If you think you have a vernal pool on your land, contact the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program to register it and learn best management practices.

If you are interested in identifying seasonal pool locations, hotspots of amphibian road crossings, amphibian die-offs/malformations, or would like a list of resources on amphibians and vernal pools, or the conservation of these important habitats, please contact ClearWater Conservancy at contactus@clearwaterconservancy.org or 814-237-0400 or Dr. Jim Julian at jtj2@psu.edu

Musser Gap Greenway

by Eli Rice

Opened to the public in 2014, the Musser Gap Greenway is a collaboration between Penn State and ClearWater Conservancy. The Greenway provides a constructed and defined corridor between the Musser Gap trail in Rothrock State Forest and the greater State College community. Residents and visitors using the Centre Region bikeway system are able to travel from downtown State College to Rothrock State Forest on the greenway.

The 423-acre Musser Gap property was purchased by ClearWater from a private developer in 2006.  The property was then turned over to Rothrock State Forest in 2007 for conservation purposes.

“Increasing public access to conserved lands and nature improves the quality of life for everyone in our region and is an important part of ClearWater’s mission,” said ClearWater Conservation Biologist Katie Ombalski.

The project’s total cost was $380,000. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided a $238,000 grant, with a $28,000 investment from Penn State and $114,000 in private grants, donations and contributions.

“This project is the culmination of a lot of planning and a lot of dreaming,” said Dan Sieminski, associate vice president for Finance and Business at Penn State. “This is a wonderful use of the property and a great partnership between the University and the community.”

While the trail is open to pedestrian and non-motorized vehicles, no horses, motorcycles or ATVs are allowed.

Penn State Facilities Project Manager Judith Larkin describes the trail as an enjoyable pathway with some challenges, as well. “You’ve got switchbacks and curves,” she said. “You have grade changes with some challenges on the hills. You have flat areas for all fitness levels.”

See what the hype is about by following the trail yourself.