Allegheny Land Trust protects 70 acres across Sewickley Valley

Monday, May 14, 2018 | 11:09 AM

Allegheny Land Trust has protected another 70 acres of land in the Big and Little Sewickley Creek watersheds, adding to the more than 600 acres in northwest Allegheny County that the organization has already acquired for conservation purposes.

The newly protected land consists of two separate, non-adjacent parcels located in Bell Acres. One parcel borders Big Sewickley Creek, which local residents use for fishing. The 70 acres contains nature trails that the land trust hopes to maintain and improve, according to Lindsay Dill, marketing communications director at the land conservation nonprofit.

Allegheny Land Trust will work to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and promote a balanced ecosystem on the preserved land. The organization hopes to open the area for hunting.

“Deer can really overrun native species. So by allowing hunters, we're able to kind of balance that out and offer a recreation opportunity,” Dill said.

The recently acquired 70 acres, mostly comprised of woodland, doesn't have a name yet. That's because the land trust hopes to eventually connect this green space with municipal parks, as well as other nearby conservation areas.

“There's such an opportunity over there, with how much land we have, to really make a big, connected greenway,” Dill said. “We're hoping one day that they'll all be part of a larger whole that offers residents a chance to hike, bike, bird, explore, all in one trail.”

Tom Dougherty, vice president of development at Allegheny Land Trust, said his organization has already finalized agreements to purchase another 50-acre parcel along Camp Meeting Road in Bell Acres, as well as a 26-acre tract adjacent to Acorn Park in Franklin Park borough.

“We have started the grant request process to raise the bulk of the funds needed to complete the protection of these additional 76 acres and will need significant support from the community as well. We'll be kicking off a public fundraising drive in the coming weeks,” Dougherty said.

According to Dill, her organization has identified many areas throughout Allegheny and Washington counties that contribute to western Pennsylvania's biodiversity, water quality and unique character. The entire 70 acres of recently preserved land belongs to the state-designated Camp Meeting Woods Biological Diversity Area.

A 50-acre chunk, located just east of Bell Acres Municipal Park, also belongs to the Big and Little Sewickley Creek Land Conservation Area. This section was purchased from a landowner who wishes to remain anonymous, Dill said. The remaining 19-20 acres, situated northeast of Walker Park between Camp Meeting and Little Sewickley Creek roads, was purchased from the county in a land auction.

Allegheny Land Trust funded these purchases through a $273,450 challenge grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), as well as $43,000 in fundraising money from local residents.

“The community really stepped up and helped us complete the fundraising,” Dill said.

While recreational trails and fishing opportunities already exist in the Big and Little Sewickley Creek watersheds, the land trust's purchase ensures that no future development can occur on protected land.

“The backbone of a multi-municipal regional greenway is coming together that can provide recreational trails and protect scenic beauty in the region,” said Roy Kraynyk, director of land protection and capital projects at Allegheny Land Trust. “Protection of the land will help to maintain water quality, reduce flooding, and enhance property values.”

Sam Bojarski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.