Every Project Begins With a Story: The Kelley/New Garden Acquisition


Every project at NPC begins with a story. The story of family and community, and their connection to the land and waters of the region. But the story doesn’t begin and end there. With each project there is an arc. You know, the kind of arc your fourth grade English teacher taught you about, the arc of a narrative story…it kinda looks like a roller coasteror a mountain range… 


…kinda like a Pennsylvania mountain range 

But I digress…

A Classic Narrative

The story of how NPC conserves land is like a classic narrative in that it has a beginning, middle and an end. It’s never linear, and often it starts in the dark of night, on a Sunday afternoon, or in the middle of a rain storm.

There are many peaks and valleys, yes literally, but also figuratively. In the case of Kelley/New Garden, many players needed to play their part for the success of the acquisition. John Steinbeck couldn’t have made this stuff up!

A Cast of Characters

This story contains interesting characters whose paths cross and link through the acquisition of the land. County Commissioners, biologists, State Senators and Representatives, judges, lawyers and even a priest worked together to create communications and opportunities for the acquisition to move forward. Then there were the Kelley Estate heirs who had to agree to sell their portions of the estate in support of the partnership and conservation of the land, as well as the members of the West Keating Township community who used the land for generations to hunt, fish and at one time make their living. And last, but certainly not least, NPC’s director, Renee’ Carey and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s, Thom Woodruff, would work to partner with all of them to ensure the successful outcome of the project and the acquisition of the land. If I told you everyone who took part in the success of this acquisition, including NPC donors,  the list alone would be something like the opening of a JRR Tolkein saga!

The Climax

An aspect of the climax came when the Clinton County Courts deeded the property to NPC. The next step at year two in the acquisition project, was to transfer ownership of the property to the Bureau of Forestry and the PA Game Commission. The two state agencies would then work to decide how the property would be divided. Once these decision could be made the Conservancy and the Elk Foundation would begin to move forward with the sale. This would take another 2 years. Who knew where this story would end?!

A Happy Ending

For one week, in 1999, NPC was the proud owner of 4,200 acres of Clinton County Forest. A week later, the land was turned over to The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to help offset the insurance costs. Then in the summer of 2001, 3,100 acres were dedicated as State Game Lands 321, and 1,100 acres became part of the Sproul State Forest. A happy ending for a four year project.

Today the property is comprised of fields, woods, food plots, meandering runs, steep wooded side hills and 3 1/2 miles of river frontage along the West Branch of the Susquehanna.

There’s Always More to the Story

We hope you enjoyed this post, it is part of a series of pieces highlighting the stories of NPC’s work in the region. Until next time…


Raise Up Land Conservation

Beginning at 6:00pm on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania’s Raise the Region 2017 will allow you to make a donation and have your donation “stretched.” By using their online portal, you’ll make a donation to FCFPP earmarked for NPC. The Foundation will then “stretch” your donation using funds from the Alexander Family of Dealerships and others.

To make a donation during the event visit our online giving page at “Raise the Region.”  Please note, the link won’t work until 6:00pm on March 8, 2017 and will stop working at 11:59pm on March 9, 2017.

Ephemeral Forest Pools a.k.a. Vernal Pools

Vernal ponds are temporary wetlands that fill with water each Spring. They are seasonal breeding and feeding grounds for many amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals. Some of these animals need the pools for breeding while others rely on them for food.

The word “vernal” comes from the Latin word for spring, vernalis.

Vernal ponds are formed each year in the late winter or early spring. A shallow ground depression fills with spring snowmelt, precipitation, and the rising water table. They are generally less than 40 yards in diameter and no more than 4 feet deep.

Feeding Birds Month is Wrapping Up

Feeding birds month is wrapping up. The last thing to think about is when to stop feeding birds. Dr. Brittingham notes that feeding into spring may allow you to see some migratory birds on their fly through, and the birds that are normal “PA residents” in the spring and summer, but leave for the winter.

She suggests you keep an eye on the area you’re using and if you start to see mold or mildew, to stop feeding, or change your feeding area. Typically in the spring there’s more moisture from melting snow and spring rain. Things might get moldy, and you’ll want to prevent it from becoming a problem.

She also states that if a bear visits your feeders, you need to stop feeding. Bears coming out of their winter hibernation are really hungry and your bird feeder is an easy source of yummy calories.

Penn State Extension and the Pennsylvania Game Commission both have resources to review about bears in general, with some information about bears and bird feeders.

Who Eats What?

Penn State Extension provides the following chart to help you understand, who eats what, and what kind of feeder you need for that food source:

Species – Food Preference -Feeder Preference

Mourning dove – Cracked corn, millet, sunflower seeds – Ground, platform feeder
Red-bellied woodpecker – Suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts – Suet feeder, hanging feeder
Downy and hairy woodpeckers – Suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts – Suet feeder, hanging feeder
Blue jay – Sunflower seeds,  suet, peanuts – Platform feeder
Black-capped chickadee – Sunflower seeds,  suet, peanuts – Almost all feeders
Tufted titmouse – Sunflower seeds,  suet, peanuts – Hanging feeder, suet feeder
White-breasted nuthatch – Sunflower seeds,  suet – Almost all feeders
Red-breasted nuthatch – Sunflower seeds,  suet – Suet feeder, hanging feeder
Carolina wren – Peanut butter, suet – Suet feeder
European starling – Peanut butter, suet, sunflower seeds – Suet feeder, platform feeder
White-throated sparrow – Sunflower seeds, millet – Ground, platform feeder
Song sparrow – Sunflower seeds, millet – Ground, platform feeder
Dark-eyed junco – Sunflower seeds, millet – Ground, platform feeder
Northern cardinal – Sunflower seeds, seed mixes – Ground, platform feeder, tube feeder with tray
Common grackle – Cracked corn, sunflower seeds – Platform feeder, tube feeder with tray
Brown-headed cowbird – Millet – Platform feeder
Purple finch – Niger, sunflower seeds, millet – Niger feeder, hanging tube feeder
House finch – Niger, sunflower seeds, millet – Niger feeder, hanging tube feeder, ground
American goldfinch – Niger, sunflower seeds – Niger feeder, hanging tube feeder, ground
House sparrow – Niger, sunflower seeds – Platform feeder, tube feeder with tray

Location, Location, Location

Where you place your bird feeder will impact who visits your bird feeder. Birds like cover. You’ll want the feeder to be within 10 feet of some trees or shrubs. This will allow the birds to check things out before venturing to the feeder.

You should also think about a water source for the birds visiting your bird feeder. In the winter, water can be especially hard to find. A birdbath, or other shallow container can work well for birds needing a drink or a bath.

Something to keep in mind with both your bird feeder and birdbath is while you want some shrubs nearby, if there’s too much cover, your cat (or your neighbor’s) will find the shrubbery a great place to hide and wait for birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between 1,400,000 and 3,700,000,000 birds are killed annually by cats. That’s a really big number. So, keep cats in mind when placing your feeders.

A problem at bird feeders is squirrels. There are a lot of theories on how to keep squirrels out of your feeder, but Dr. Margaret Brittingham at Penn State University notes, “You are trying to attract birds to your feeder, but inevitably the squirrels will come too. Some people enjoy watching squirrels, while others consider them pests.”

Your Bird Feed Determines Who You See

Different bird species eat different things. While a Mourning dove likes cracked corn, a Red-bellied woodpecker prefers suet. What you put out in your feeder will be a large factor in determining who you end up seeing at your feeder.

Penn State University’s Dr. Margaret C. Brittingham, Professor of Wildlife Resources, recommends small black-oil sunflower seed as the best all-round bird seed. In a publication she wrote for Penn State Extension she noted, it “is preferred by many smaller species, including chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. It has a high oil content that is nutritionally important for birds, and a thin seed coat that is easy for them to crack open.”

Dr. Brittingham also suggests providing a variety of foods to help increase the variety of birds you see. Your feeder will need to be one designed to dispense the seed. For instance striped sunflower seeds are larger than the black-oil sunflower seed. A feeder that easily lets the black-oil sunflower seed out might jam up because striped sunflower seeds are too big to exit the holes in the feeder.

She also recommends using a seed mix if you’re interested in a variety of birds, but don’t have the desire to maintain a variety of feeders, or space for a variety of feeders. She does caution, that some mixes contain items that birds in our region don’t eat, so you want to be sure to read the label and pick a seed mix that “fits” what birds in your area eat.

Dr. Brittingham shares the recipes for “Marvel Meal,” a favorite for chickadees, titmice, wrens, and bluebirds. The mixture can be smeared on the trunk of a tree, or a tree stump. You can also freeze the mixture into blocks, slice it and put it in a suet feeder or put it on a feeder tray.

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 handful of sunflower seeds (optional)

February is “Feed a Bird” Month

While we’ve celebrated “Feed a Bird Month” before it’s too much fun to not celebrate again this year.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology coordinates Project Feeder Watch which allows citizen scientists to track and report the bird species they see at their backyard feeder. PA’s top ten birds are feeders are:

  • Dark-eye junco
  • Mourning dove
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Northern cardinal
  • Blue jay
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Downy woodpecker
  • House finch
  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee

This is a statewide survey, so what you’re seeing in your backyard in Tioga County is probably going to be a little different than what a NPC member in Lebanon County is going to see. The landscape might be different and the few degrees difference in average temperature can make a big difference.


Warm Holiday Wishes from Cold Marsh Creek

The Pine Creek Rail Trail runs for 62 miles from Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore using the rail bed that once hauled celery, lumber, and ginseng to market. The Trail is popular with tourists, Boy Scout Troops earning bicycling badges, and local residents staying healthy by biking and walking.

From Wellsboro Junction to Ansonia the Trail runs along Marsh Creek. Through this area, the stream has a defined channel, but there is also a network of wetlands that help feed the stream. During spring high water events, it’s not unusual for there to be standing water in areas for days.

NPC is working with the Bureau of Forestry on the Cavanaugh Access. While the site will provide more recreational access to the Trail and opportunities to develop walking paths into wetlands, the property also is important for its ecological values.


Cavanaugh Access Begins

When you think of NPC does the word “agile” come to mind?  How about “speedy,” or “fast?”  Well, all of those words could be used to describe the latest project NPC’s members and donors are making possible.

The Pine Creek Rail Trail runs for 62 miles from Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore using the rail bed that once hauled celery, lumber, and ginseng to market. The Trail is popular with tourists, Boy Scout Troops earning bicycling badges, and local residents staying healthy by biking and walking.

One need at the northern end of the Trail is for more access and for rest areas. People have said they’d like to have a place they can sit and watch wildlife, as well as just taking a break to enjoy the day.  In this stretch the Trail runs along Marsh Creek and a large wetland complex (known as the Muck). The Trail is bordered on both sides by private land with the Bureau of Forestry in charge of maintaining the Trail.

Back in October there was an opportunity to purchase 132 acres along the Trail. The property was being sold at a court ordered auction. When the Tioga State Forest staff saw the auction sign they quickly called their central office in Harrisburg to see if there would be some way to buy this property.

Staff from Forestry’s central office called NPC’s office.  There isn’t a way for the state to attend an auction and buy properties. The rules, systems, and laws in place require various state offices and  state departments to review sales contracts for real estate. As you can imagine it takes time for these multiple reviews to take place.

NPC talked to the staff from Harrisburg on a Monday. The auction was set for a Thursday.  Yep, NPC had 72 hours (almost to the minute) to figure out if the property had conservation value and if NPC could buy it.

Because of the support NPC receives from its members and donors, the organizational systems were in place that allowed staff to research the conservation values, visit the property to document its condition, gain board approval of the project and authorization to bid, attend the auction, and be the high bidder!!!

57 days after that initial conversation with Forestry’s Harrisburg staff, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy took title to an amazing 132 acres!!

With the continued support from our members and donors we’re now working toward conveying the property to the Bureau of Forestry and preparing the property to become an access point to the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

The property’s ecological features include wetlands along Marsh Creek. The wetlands are extensive, fed by Canada Run, and close to wooded areas. This allows wildlife to use the wetlands and Creek by moving from the forest to the stream and wetlands and back.

Marsh Creek is a major tributary to Pine Creek. Marsh Creek meanders and bends through this property for nearly one mile. This Creek and its associated wetlands are a huge sponge that provide water year round that helps keep Pine Creek’s water cooler in the summer.

The Bureau of Forestry plans to create a parking area and access to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. A few benches will be added to the property to allow bikers, hikers, walkers and wanderers a place to sit rest, and enjoy the day. Forestry will eventually create a walking trail to allow people to see more of the wetlands, and hopefully see more wildlife.

There is some work to do before the property becomes useable as the Cavanaugh Access. There is household debris on the site and a house that isn’t in great shape. These need to be cleaned up and removed from the property before a parking area, benches and walking trails can be constructed.

But, we’ve come a LONG way in the last 57 days.  Thank you for making this project possible. It really is because of your membership support and donations over the years that NPC could help take this possibility and make it a reality.

If you’d like to donate to the project and help get the site ready for public access, please click here.

The Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.  The official registration and financial information of the  Conservancy may be obtained from the PA Department of State by calling toll-free within PA 1-800-732-0999.  Registration does not imply endorsement.