Central PA Conservancy Acquires Mountain Tract at Cranes Gap

Photos courtesy of Central Pennsylvania Conservancy

On May 15th, 2018, the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (CPC) purchased a 79.4-acre mountain tract between two previously disjointed tracts of State Game Lands #230 in Cumberland County. The tract covers the ridgeline at Cranes Cap on the Kittatinny Ridge to 400 yards downslope and is bisected by an historic segment of Cranes Gap Rd, which CPC has reopened as a trail. CPC will hold the property and manage it for public access and recreation, healthy forests, and intact habitats. Mountain land which could have stayed in private hands, been posted ‘No Trespassing’, and seen home development, will stay wild, forested, and open to the public.

Mr. Earl Windemaker of Carlisle purchased the property dividing the two tracts of game lands in 1986, marking the only sale between 1908 and 2018. His nephews and heirs described him as a generous man who loved collecting, hunting, and the outdoors. To protect the tract in his memory, they offered it to CPC well-below fair market value, as established by an independent appraisal.

The Windemaker tract is bisected by old Crane’s Gap Rd, built in 1848 to improve a footpath that had passed over the ridge since colonial times. The road is elevated on a wall built from Tuscarora sandstone and reaches 30′ at a switchback that affords outstanding views of the Cumberland Valley. Alternative routes to pass over other gaps superseded Cranes Gap’s importance by the time it was formally vacated in 1922. Today, the one mile segment offers respite and an opportunity to hike the mountain. The preserve is open to the public and is accessible from the State Game Lands or the Tuscarora Trail, which traverses the Perry County side of the ridge and is managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. The Tuscarora Trail is a 252-mile trail stretching from Shenandoah National Park to the Darlington Shelter, eight miles east of Cranes Gap, connecting with the Appalachian Trail at each end.

The acquisition was funded by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of legislation establishing the Keystone Fund. Financed by a real estate transfer tax, the Keystone Fund has collected and distributed over $1B for parks, trails, community green spaces, and libraries.

Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) has been a key partner in this project, facilitating the initial landowner meeting, supporting the survey and title work, enrolling the property in PGC’s hunter access and habitat improvement program, and serving as a potential transfer entity for long-term management in the future. And, as part of its commitment to ‘save the habitat, save the hunt’, the PA Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) made a critical contribution of $10,000 early on to support the project costs. The acquisition locally advances NWTF’s goal to open hunting access for half a million additional acres.

The project marks another success for the Kittatinny Ridge Land Partnership, an initiative administered by The Nature Conservancy and formed by 7 regional land trusts to advance land protection efforts on the 185-miles of ridgeline that runs through Pennsylvania. The goal is to protect habitat for migratory birds and mammals, a critical landscape and greenway, and recreational opportunities.  CPC is also a member of the Kittatinny Coalition, an alliance of organizations, agencies, and academic institutions working with municipal officials and private landowners to conserve the natural, scenic, cultural, and aesthetic resources of the Kittatinny Ridge and Corridor.

This project effectively demonstrates how conservationists across the board can collaborate to complete an acquisition that would not have been possible otherwise.

Central PA Conservancy members and volunteers are in the process of completing more acquisitions, transfers, and conservation easements to secure other natural areas and public lands. You can contribute or help by becoming a member. CPC is a 501(c)3 land trust committed to conserving natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations through land acquisition, conservation easements, education, and outreach. CPC serves Cumberland, Perry, Franklin, Dauphin, and Juniata counties from offices in Carlisle.

Over Cranes Gap