Strawberry Hill Exploring Options with DCNR
February 5, 2016 marked Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve’s 30th Anniversary as a non-profit environmental education center, and although Swamp Creek is clearer and cleaner than before, the Preserve’s future is still as murky as the day Hans and Frances Froelicher began their efforts in the 1960’s to clean up and protect the watershed.
The Strawberry Hill Foundation, Inc. was created in 1986 as a charitable non-profit with the mission to provide environmental education to the surrounding area and protect the Swamp Creek Watershed. At the heart of this mission is the Nature Preserve and Environmental Education Center, situated on 609-acres in Hamiltonban Township, and surrounded by the 85,000+ acre Michaux State Forest and private landowners.
In an effort to safeguard the future ecological integrity of the Swamp Creek Watershed and continue to provide valuable community educational services, Strawberry Hill’s Board of Directors are investigating a partnership with PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and The Conservation Fund to transfer 574 acres into the public trust, to become part of the Michaux State Forest.
The proposal includes retaining the core campus area of approximately 35 acres, including the educational center and facilities. This will allow the foundation to continue to provide educational programs and to serve as a community access point to the watershed. If completed, the transfer to the State could provide the Foundation with the financial resources it needs to increase its assets and provide the funds necessary for the programs and facilities that enrich the lives of people all over the area.
To facilitate this proposal, Strawberry Hill’s Board of Directors has enlisted the help of The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is a national organization that focuses on creating as many pathways possible for people and organizations to protect their natural resources and save the places that matter most – properties with ecological, historic, and/or cultural significance.
Recently, The Conservation Fund was instrumental in helping to protect two properties in the region: Glatfelter Tree Farm #1 and Eagle Rock. In 2008, the Fund purchased the entire 2,500-acre Tree Farm #1 property and held it until they could negotiate the land’s transfer to Michaux State Forest. Conserving this land was made possible because of a two-year partnership involving federal, state, and local governments; private organizations and the citizens of Adams County. The Conservation Fund and DCNR also worked together to acquire and add the 1,100-acre property previously known as Eagle Rock to Michaux State Forest in August 2015.
Tree Farm #1, now Michaux State Forest, abuts the Preserve on its southern border. The State Forest also connects to Strawberry Hill’s northwest border near Whippoorwill Pond. If a transfer occurs, a permanent protected forested wildlife corridor will be established along what is now a high-quality cold-water stream, which with the help of Adams County’s conservation organizations and the PA Department of Environmental Protection could soon be designated an exceptional value stream.
“Permanent protection” is the key phrase. As it stands today, Strawberry Hill Foundation is Swamp Creek’s guardian…that is of course, as long as the Foundation can continue to operate.
In the last ten years, over 60,000 schoolchildren and visitors have participated in the educational programs offered at the Preserve through various field trips. An additional 50,000+ visitors have also experienced the trails, public programs, and events provided by this community resource. No direct municipal, county, state, or federal, operational funds are received to support the programs offered at the Preserve, or to protect the watershed.
Environmental education is the Foundation’s primary function. The Foundation subsidizes 62.5% of the actual cost associated with delivering the educational school programs. The Preserve spends approximately $16 per student, including all overhead, salaries, etc. to provide the programs. On average schools are only charged approximately $6 per student, leaving annual $50,000+ operating deficit subsidized by the Foundation. If the per student fees were raised much higher, the programs would become unaffordable for school field trips. Strawberry Hill also maintains over 10-miles of hiking trails, parking areas, and public facilities open to the community to explore the watershed, free of charge. The annual cost to maintain the trail system alone equals to roughly $450 per mile, a cost greatly reduced by hundreds of volunteer hours.
In 2008, the Foundation’s ability to subsidize the educational programs and maintain the Preserve was greatly reduced with the onset of the “Great Recession.” Significant losses to the Foundation’s assets occurred. Since then the Foundation’s assets have held, but it has never recovered those lost assets, even with substantial upsurges in earned revenues. 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.
The Strawberry Hill Foundation was incorporated primarily “to organize and operate a non-profit organization to encourage and promote public interest in the study of outdoor environmental education and for preservation of property,” including but not limited to the Preserve. If it becomes necessary to dissolve the Corporation, the Board of Trustees shall, after paying or making provision for the payment of all of the liabilities of the Corporation, dispose of all of the assets of the Corporation “exclusively” for the purposes of the Corporation.
The difficultly with the dissolution clause in the Foundation’s Articles of Incorporation is not only finding a new landowner to protect the watershed, but to find one who will “ encourage and promote public interest in the study of outdoor environmental education.”
Thirty years ago, Frances Froelicher ran into the same problem when she attempted to sell the land. There were many articles written in the local newspapers on how Frances pleaded with the local municipalities, county, and private organizations to purchase her property and provide environmental education for the community.
Frances’ lack of success is what prompted her to form the Foundation and bequeath a portion of her own money to the Foundation. However, Frances was quoted in a 1990 Baltimore ABC 2 newscast proclaiming that she wanted Strawberry Hill “to be a center for environmental education for children” and that “she does not have enough money to keep the center operating when she is gone.”
After decades of work, Swamp Creek which is the core of the Preserve and Middle Creek, the portion that runs along the Preserve’s southern border and westward, have 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. Including Carbaugh Run, these could be the second and third exceptional value streams in Adams County. If the PA Department of Environmental authorizes the designation, these streams will receive the highest protection the Commonwealth provides, legally restricting any activity that will degrade the ecological value of the streams.
In hopes of this designation, Strawberry Hill’s Board of Directors is now focusing on fulfilling the mission of environmental education. The Board of Directors has diligently reviewed the intentions of the Preserve’s founders Hans and Frances Froelicher. The Board believes that seeking a course of action to transfer the land to the DCNR honors their intent and desire to see environmental education provided for the community, and ensures the watershed is placed in the hands of stewardship organization that will respect the quality of the watershed.
To learn more, The Board of Directors invites the community to join us for our pancake breakfast hosted at Camp Eder – Saturdays: Feb 27 & Mar 5, 7:30-11:30 am during Mount Hope Maple Madness sugaring festival. Funds raised at the breakfast help support the educational programs. Detailed information will be available for interested community members to learn more about the Board’s efforts to preserve Strawberry Hill. Board members will also be available to discuss the Foundation’s partnership proposal with the state and to answer inquiries.
The Board is grateful for all the community support it has received over the last 30 years and is open to obtaining your input as a valued community member, neighbor, and environmental steward. Until a course of action is identified that can fund the Preserve, Strawberry Hill will remain open serving the community as it has for the last 30-years… as long as the Foundation’s assets and community support remains.