Penn State Responds to Spring Creek Master Plan with Praise, Advice

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State officials this week sent a letter to the consulting firm tasked with developing a master plan and management plan for Spring Creek Canyon outlining comments and recommendations for the final plan.

In the letter to the consultants, Dan Sieminski, associate vice president for finance and business, and Bruce McPheron, incoming dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, praised the plan for its commitment to preservation of and responsible access to an important regional natural resource and noted that the planning process allowed for wide participation and input by the community.

The master plan, drawn up by consultants at Environmental Planning & Design after months of research and public input, provides a blueprint for the design, use and conservation of the Spring Creek Canyon in Centre County and its surrounding uplands. The canyon property is owned by the State Correctional Institute at Rockview, but is regarded by the Commonwealth as surplus land and is being considered for sale.

“Penn State University brought to the table a long-standing interest in environmental quality of the Centre Region and our specific desire to see the Spring Creek Canyon and surrounding lands preserved for and accessible to future generations, ” they wrote. “Both as a potential property owner and citizens of the region, we look forward to continuing to support the implementation of this master plan.”

At a public meeting March 31 to review the plan that outlines the most appropriate use for the property surrounding Spring Creek, representatives from the Spring Creek Watershed Community, ClearWater Conservancy and the Centre County Historical Commission voiced support for the plan.

In their letter, Sieminski and McPheron said that any future property owners should adhere to land use patterns, assured through conservation easements, laid out in the master plan.

They also recommended that throughout the plan an emphasis be placed on the substantial amount of time and funding that will be required to achieve the recommendations and improvements proposed in the plan. For example, they explained that restoration of 450 acres will take decades, and management of invasive species would be a perpetual task. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of external funding will be necessary for the future property owners to realize the goals of the plan.

The establishment of a Land Management Partnership, according to Sieminski and McPheron, is an important mechanism to ensure collaboration of property owners and easement holders in management decisions that affect the property beyond the concerns of any individual owner. The Land Management Partnership, according to the proposed plan, would be a charitable organization partnered by Penn State, Benner Township, the Fish and Boat Commission, Rockview prison, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and ClearWater Conservancy.

However, the Land Management Partnership as described in the plan is highly resource intensive – with an initial estimated cost of $239,000 per year – and bureaucratic. A more simplified management structure that will evolve through time as needs are identified is required, they wrote.

As the next step, the University supports legislation to authorize the sale of the Rockview land north of I-99 to appropriate property owners. Once authorized by legislation, the property owners must negotiate terms of the conservation easements and management of the collective property.

Penn State is interested in purchasing 1,124 acres for agricultural teaching, research and outreach initiatives. The sale of the land was stalled last year when a bill authorizing it languished in the state Senate. The bill had been overwhelmingly approved by the state House of Representatives, with all of Centre County’s representatives voting in favor of the legislation.

Penn State already serves as a steward of land in the Centre Region, providing access to more than 7,000 acres at Stone Valley for generations. Over the decades, Penn State has invested millions of dollars in the care of that land, including its 72-acre Lake Perez, and opened it for use to boaters, hikers, fishermen and wildlife conservationists, while at the same time protecting it for the future.

“The Spring Creek Canyon Conservation Study: A Master Plan and Management Plan for the Spring Creek Canyon,” was paid for by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Penn State and Benner Township. The final master plan will be submitted to Benner Township for approval by April 15.

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