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Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve considers partnership with DCNR

Danielle Ryan

(3/4) Financial crisis looms over Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve as the Preserveís Board of Directors are currently in the process of investigating a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and The Conservation Fund to transfer 574 acres into the public trust. This land transfer would ultimately become part of the Michaux State Forest and could provide Strawberry Hill with the financial resources it needs to increase its assets and provide the funds necessary for the continuation of the educational programs and corresponding facilities that have been enriching the lives of people all over the area.

Strawberry Hillís Board of Directors has enlisted the help of The Conservation Fund, which is a national non-profit organization that aims to pursue environmental preservation and economic development. The organization focuses on creating as many pathways possible for people and organizations to protect their natural resources and save properties with ecological, historic, and/or cultural significance.

In 2008, Strawberry Hillís ability to subsidize the educational programs and maintain the Preserve was reduced with the onset of the "Great Recession." Significant losses to the Foundationís assets occurred. Since then the Foundationís assets have never been recovered. Increased operational and facility management costs, coupled with financial pressures, have put a strain on the resources the Foundation possesses to provide affordable quality education and protect the watershed. Without additional direct funding support, the Foundation, the Preserve, and educational programs may soon cease to exist.

Located in Hamiltonban Township, Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve was founded in the 1960ís by Hans and Frances Froelicher, who initially began efforts to clean up and protect the Swamp Creek Watershed. In 1986, The Strawberry Hill Foundation, Inc. was created as a charitable non-profit with the primary mission to provide environmental education to the surrounding area and protect the Swamp Creek Watershed. The Nature Preserve and Environmental Education Center lie at the heart of this mission, as the mission has always been to provide environmental education for the community, as originally wished by co-founder Frances.

The Preserve is housed on 609-acres, consisting of streams, ponds, forested areas and a quarry, and is surrounded by the 85,000+ acre Michaux State Forest and private landowners. If the partnership were to occur, Strawberry Hill would retain and maintain 35 acres around the primary facility, which includes the educational center and other various facilities and buildings on the property.

After decades of work, Swamp Creek, located within the Preserve, has recently scored high enough in water quality testing to receive an existing use classification of exceptional value streams. Less than 2% of the streams in the state have earned this protection. If the PA Department of Environmental Protection authorizes the designation, this stream will receive the highest protection the Commonwealth provides, legally restricting any activity that will degrade the ecological value of the stream, as well as Carbaugh Run stream, also located on the property and valued as exceptional.

Executive Director, Chuck Reid stated that the Preserve is not locked into this decision yet, they are still exploring their options. In order to continue Frances Froelicherís mission for Strawberry Hill, something must be done to assist with the financial crisis. Community support has always been a vital part of Strawberry Hill, and is needed now more than ever.

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