By: Tom Fuhrman, President of Lake Erie Region Conservancy
The largest tract of undeveloped land remaining on the Commonwealth’s Lake Erie shoreline was protected recently with its purchase by a conservation organization, and will be turned over to the Commonwealth for public use and enjoyment.
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) concluded the acquisition of the 540-acre Coho tract in western Erie County from Reliant Energy in late December 2003. The Conservancy intends to turn over the land to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in 2004 for inclusion in its state park system.
Jim Bissell, botanist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, created a preliminary inventory of the botanical significance of the property in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In his reports, he indicated that the Museum found at least 11 species of special concern plants, including the:
Bissell also noted that the property’s fossil dune ridge are “the only quality oak savannah I have seen in Erie County thus far.”The property is already known to harbor this significant level of biodiversity, yet a complete inventory has not been accomplished.
“We applaud the diligent work of all the partners involved and commend them for recognizing the property’s significant ecological, recreational, historical and economic value to this region,” said DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis. “This is a remarkable piece of property, and will make a wonderful addition to our public lands.”
“This site not only demonstrates our primary mission as a conservation organization, but also integrates and promotes economic growth through tourism for the Lake Erie region and the Commonwealth,” Secretary DiBerardinis said. “Aspects of this property complement Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Center, creating opportunities for multiple-day visits and educational study among the three sites. This site also provides opportunities to expand the outdoor recreational programming initiatives now being pursued by DCNR.”
Larry Schweiger, president of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, said that efforts to protect the property had been underway since 1998, when a group came together to encourage protection because of the site’s unique values. That group eventually became the Lake Erie Region Conservancy. “Lake Erie Region Conservancy helped engage the community and local officials in the area and remained persistent in their efforts” Schweiger said. “There is widespread community support for the project, and I’m pleased all of the partners were able to achieve this important goal.”
Schweiger said in addition to one mile of shoreline with scenic views from 90-foot bluffs, the property also contains mature old growth forest; rare, endangered, and threatened floral communities; a rare oak savannah sand barren ecosystem; wetlands; and archaeological sites spanning the entire cultural sequence known for the Commonwealth’s Lake Erie shore. The property is located immediately adjacent to the mouth of Elk Creek, considered to be one of the best shallowstream steelhead fisheries in the country.
The project also was made possible with the help of grants from Richard King Mellon Foundation and DCNR. The Conservation Fund provided bridge funding for the acquisition through its Great Lakes Revolving Loan Fund.
Schweiger added the acquisition goes beyond accomplishing a conservation goal. “I believe we’re also aiding Erie’s economic goals with this purchase. Economists verify that quality of life issues are increasingly important to where young American workers choose to live. The economic value of this open space may very well be in its ability to help retain and attract young people to the region,” he said.
The unique archaeological sites on this land could provide expanded partnerships with local and distant universities – some of which already are a part of the Research Consortium at the Tom Ridge Center – for university study and educational programming.
Dr.William P. Garvey, president of Mercyhurst College in Erie, said the site is one of the richest ancient history sites in Erie County. “Our preliminary investigations indicate this was an important stopping-off point for the Erie Indians and their predecessors for thousands of years. Our archaeology department will be studying the site and hopes to find remnants of the Erie civilization and that of their ancestors.”
For more information on the property, contact Presque Isle State Park at (814) 833-7424 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.