The Pennypack Preserve encompasses 771 acres and is the second-largest privately-owned natural area open to the public in Montgomery County. In 2010, the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT), which manages the preserve, acquired an additional 37 acres in a deal that involved private, state, county, borough, and township resources. This complex acquisition was made possible by Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (DCNR) Community Conservation Partnership Program (C2P2), funded in part through the Growing Greener II fund. This funding helped leverage the support of Montgomery County’s Green Fields/Green Towns open space program. Three municipalities—Bryn Athyn Borough, Lower Moreland Township, and Upper Moreland Township—partnered with PERT to complete the project by dedicating portions of their Green Fields/Green Towns allocations to the project.
In total, three properties were protected. The properties, on the grounds of the Lord’s New Church in Bryn Athyn Borough and Upper Moreland Township, contain the headwaters of a tributary to Pennypack Creek as well as upland forests, mature evergreen plantations, and acres of old-field habitat. PERT protected two of the parcels with conservation easements, and purchased the third outright. This acquisition illustrates the important role that organizations such as PERT play in maximizing available funding by bringing different stakeholders together to preserve land and resources that are mutually beneficial.
Although the acquisition of these properties was complex, it wasn’t unusual. Almost all of PERT’s projects have involved multiple funders and partners. Executive director Dr. David Robertson credited the organization’s longstanding relationship with local municipalities for streamlining the process, while pointing to the beginning of Montgomery County’s open space program in 1993 and Pennsylvania’s creation of C2P2 in 1993 as the impetus for these types of projects: “These collaborative efforts could not have happened without state and county funding. These granting agencies have had a significant impact on the amount of land that we have been able to preserve.”
Preservation efforts like this one have economic and environmental benefits for communities. Research has shown that greenbelts and trails through urban and suburban areas increase adjacent property values by thousands of dollars per acre. In addition, businesses often measure local assets such as recreational opportunities to help them determine where to relocate or expand their operations. Because of this, conserved land can directly translate to development and expansion of business investment in a community. Among the ecological benefits of preserved natural lands are high levels of rainfall infiltration, reduced erosion and flooding, plentiful groundwater reserves, and cleaner air.
The preserved properties in the Pennypack Preserve are part of the larger Pennypack Greenway, an initiative coordinated by the Pennypack Greenway Partnership. This group of nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies works to preserve, expand, and restore natural areas along Pennypack Creek. The Partnership is committed to linking the greenway’s neighborhoods and communities, improving water resources, enhancing recreational opportunities, and safeguarding the greenway’s natural and cultural heritage. This important natural and recreational corridor connects the Delaware River in Philadelphia to surrounding communities in suburban Montgomery County. When completed, the greenway will encompass over 2,500 acres and extend 21 miles along the Pennypack Creek.
The C2P2 grant program administered by DCNR provides grants to local governments, county governments, and nonprofit organizations. The funding is meant to address community recreational and conservation needs, and to support economically beneficial recreational tourism initiatives. Eligible grant components include rails-to-trails conversions, river conservation projects, and community recreation enhancements. Project types can focus on planning, acquisition, or development. Generally, C2P2 grants require a 50% match of cash or in-kind contributions.