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NPC purchases land as addition to Loyalsock State Forest

Photo courtesy Ellen Shultzabarger The Loyalsock Creek, looking downstream from the property's edge.

Reneé Carey is pretty sure she wasn’t breathing during the auction to purchase a 112-acre piece of land. As soon as the auctioneer shouted sold, the Executive Director of the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy took a deep breath.

Then the real work began. Like, first and foremost, she had to see the property the NPC had just purchased. She had taken the word of several trusted people this was a parcel of land which would fit in with the NPC’ plan to preserve land in Pennsylvania for the public.

What she found was a majestic, tree-filled, mountainous area with a naturally covered trout stream and a rocky cliff along Loyalsock Creek. It was a perfect addition to Loyalsock State Forest, which is what the future holds for the land.

The NPC made the purchase of the land with the agreement it will eventually be sold to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry to be added to the already more than 114,000 sprawling acres of Loyalsock State Forest.

“This is one of those things where I think the board members agree this is something that will extend beyond all of our lifetimes,” said Carey, who has been the Executive Director of the NPC since 1998. “We’re fortunate in Pennsylvania to have the amount of publicly-owned land we do. This will help create better access to that public land and it’s something that will benefit this generation and the next generation and beyond that.”

The mission of the NPC is to preserve the landscape and waterways of Northcentral Pennsylvania for future generations. The purchase of this land was significant because it makes it easier for outdoor recreationalists to access Bar Bottom. Currently people have to hike up to Jacoby Falls to access, and they can be hiking between 4 and 6 miles just to get there, according to Carey.

Several access points have been added along Loyalsock Creek in recent years because of of flood buyouts. This portion of land can provide those on the water a stopping point along the way to hike up to Bar Bottom, or just to stretch their legs.

But it’s also a special area of land because there’s a natural cold-water stream in which trout reproduce naturally. And by turning the land over to Bureau of Forestry, they can make sure the stream remains covered by the trees to act as it has to produce trout for anglers to enjoy.

All those reasons made it a logical purchase for the NPC. But the organization had to act quickly to make it happen. The NPC had conversations with the owners of the land about two years ago, but at the time they weren’t quite ready to sell.

They were told there was going to be an auction for the land, and Carey and the NPC had only about a week and a half before the auction to pull everything together, including making sure it was a property the Bureau of Forestry would be interested in purchasing should the NPC win the auction. But because Carey and the NPC had previously spoken with the owners, they at least had already some research about the land and had an understanding of what they were getting into, even if they hadn’t toured the property a couple years.

“It made it a lot easier. We didn’t have to pull all that information together so quickly. It was a matter of pulling the file we had on it,” Carey said.

The NPC is funded by a revolving land acquisition fund which was set up by donors in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That money is in a constant revolving state being used to purchase land and then being replenished as the land is sold to the Bureau of Forestry. Last year a donor provided the money to purchase a property which allowed a canoe access point at Avis to Pine Creek.

To date, the NPC has purchased nearly 70 properties to contribute to the public land in Pennsylvania. The program is all about preserving the natural beauty of Northcentral Pennsylvania for future generations. It’s also about providing more space for outdoors enthusiasts to enjoy hiking, fishing, or water sports.

“We recognize a lot of people enjoy those activities and it’s growing in popularity at the present time,” Carey said. “We try to work with state agencies and local governments to help provide better access or increased access for recreational resources for folks.”

As the auction went on, Carey held her breath in anticipation of the outcome. Only as it was indicated the NPC had been sold the land could she let out a sigh of relief. But that’s when the real work began.

She knew at that moment the organization would need to get an attorney and reach out to an insurance agent for title insurance. Then they had to get information people in Harrisburg would need to put together a purchase agreement to sell the land to the Bureau of Forestry. And on top of all that, it’s important to get word out to the nearly 450 members of the conservancy about the purchase they made.

It will take an undetermined amount of time to finalize the purchase agreement with the state. The COVID-19 pandemic will probably cause the review process done by the state to take a little longer than normal. In the past, everything could be finalized in as little as three months or take as long as a year. It’s all a matter of how long it takes the paperwork to be processed.

But it’s purchases like this one which make it easier for Carey to slog through days of paperwork which may not be as exciting as auction day was. Understanding there’s always something else to be working on next keeps her and the rest of the conservancy motivated to keep doing the work the group has done for the last 30 years.

“In five or 50 years nobody is going to know we were involved in this,” Carey said. “But we know people will still be enjoying the falls at Bar Bottom, and that’s pretty neat to think about.”

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