Watershed association, partners team to preserve 123-acre Ligonier farm
Loyalhanna Watershed Association put a plan into action recently to improve and protect a 123-acre property formerly known as the McConnaughey Farm at the west end of Ligonier above the country market.
The association plans to convert an 1880s-era farmhouse and barn on the property. A portion of the property will be leased to local farmers while the remainder of the property will be returned to a natural wetland habitat.
The project will improve the health of the farm's waterways by creating a buffer to prevent the flow of pollutants into the Loyalhanna Creek. It will also create better pastures for tenant farmer Kim Miller to graze his Devon breed beef cattle on the property.
Susan Huba, the watershed's executive director said the project has been in the works since 2010 and estimates its completion around 2015.
“Farms go up for sale, they get developed or subdivided and that whole habitat is lost,” Huba explained. “Our initial goal was to protect this property from development and preserve it as open space and this is going to allow that to happen in perpetuity so those species can be protected, the water can be protected, and the land can be used.”
The project is a joint effort between the association and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife of California University of Pennsylvania, with the help of grants from two programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
The conservation portion of the project involves protecting the wildlife habitat surrounding the farm by installing fencing to prevent stream bank erosion and absorb nutrients that could damage the stream's ecosystem. Additionally, a provision of the grant requires planting 100 native trees and 50 shrubs per acre in the 17 acres of buffer.
As for the environmental componenet 14,000 feet of perimeter fencing will be installed as well as watering facilities, animal trails and walkways, which will allow for 79 acres of cattle grazing.
The project will see a two-fold result, according to Jose Taracido of California University of Pennsylvania. It will increase the wildlife habitat, such as waterfowl, grassland bird species, neo-tropical bird species and local mammals. During previous projects, muddy creeks that only held carp became clean enough to support trout, which require a much higher water quality to survive, he said.
Taracido said projects like this one make for better farming practices and increase the quality and value of the livestock. Clean water means fewer health problems for the livestock, which means more weight gain, more production in brood cows and bigger, healthier calves.
“There is a benefit to the farmers. It's not just about the water quality and the wildlife,” Taracido commented. “(Miller) is going to have better grazing when this is complete. He'll have better control of the grasslands so that he can produce better livestock. Just having it wide open and letting the cows run loose, everything gets eaten down at once. This way, he can control the pastures and once you do that for about a month these cows know. We build a crossing in the stream and all of a sudden they stop walking in the stream. It's amazing how quickly they pick up on this.”
Farmers have seen the positive impacts of projects such as these, Taracido explained, and jumped on the bandwagon. The project could work as a showcase, encouraging other farmers to take up similar practices to improve their own properties.
“We look at it as a win-win,” Huba said. “We are taking care of a property that we are responsible for protecting. That benefits the community and people that are more interested in learning about this type of practice. The location we have here is unique in the fact that it is protected by our organization. It's so close to the Loyalhanna and there are so many different features of the property itself that are difficult tasks to do. That will be good to show to people that there is a way to work out these problems.”
Peter Turcik is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.