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Milestone achieved — 10,000 acres in Ligonier Valley saved

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's recent conservation easement of 137 acres near Donegal Lake helped the region's private, nonprofit conservation organization reach a milestone in Westmoreland County.

The easement at a family farm in Donegal Township finalized a week ago means the organization has permanently protected more than 10,000 acres in the Ligonier Valley through voluntary means since the 1970s.

The recent easement is part of the Loyalhanna Creek watershed, which also runs through Cook, Ligonier, Derry and Unity townships.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission owns and manages Donegal Lake. Both the lake and Four Mile Run are trout-stocked fisheries.

This project is the latest easement in a conservancy initiative to preserve the agricultural heritage of the Ligonier Valley, protect water quality and conserve farmland and open space. It has acquired conservation easements over eight farms in the Ligonier Valley since December.

“Ligonier Valley is a special place, with its forested ridges, valleys of rolling farmland, streams and long, sweeping, scenic views. The conservancy protects land in many parts of Western Pennsylvania, but has recognized Ligonier Valley and the Laurel Highlands as among our key focus areas for land conservation for decades,” said Thomas Saunders, conservancy president and chief executive officer.

Specifically, the four Ligonier Valley properties that the conservancy protected through easements within the last month include:

• The most-recent property easement on 137 acres along Donegal Lake Road in Donegal Township;

• About 59 acres along Route 711 in Donegal Township. The property that has been in Kirk Renner's family for four generations and is located on a state scenic byway and in the Loyalhanna Creek watershed;

• More than 63 acres on Mountain View Road in Fairfield Township on a farm that sits at the headwaters of Tubmill Creek, a trout stream; and

• A third-generation, 138-acre family farm on Route 259, also in Fairfield Township. Owned by Rex and Susan Henderson, the property sits near other lands that are protected by conservation easements. Rainwater from the grounds drains into Hypocrite Creek and Snyders Run, which are tributaries of Tubmill Creek. In addition, a majority of the property's soils have been classified as prime or statewide important farmland.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement with landowners that keeps property in private hands while permanently restricting future uses. Each agreement is unique and is written to protect the conservation values of the land.

It permits the landowner to continue to own and use the land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs. Future owners also will be bound by the agreement's terms.

The conservancy is a private, nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932. It has helped to establish 10 state parks, conserved more than 233,000 acres of natural lands and protected or restored more than 1,500 miles of rivers and streams.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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