Westmoreland Land Trust eyes Hempfield farm for park, nature reserve
Hempfield could get a new scenic park and conservation area if the Westmoreland Land Trust buys a hilltop farm in the northern part of the township.
After several years of negotiations, the trust has reached an agreement to purchase the 96-acre property, pending completion of due diligence and raising the needed funds, says Betsy Aiken, executive director of the nonprofit.
The property’s high elevation, compared to surrounding forested land, should provide an ideal habitat for butterflies and several species of birds, while offering visitors distant views of the county’s ridges, Aiken said.
“We’re thinking of it as a low-impact nature reserve where the public would be welcome to come and visit,” she said. “We believe that it has the potential to become a showcase about the conservation of land in Westmoreland County.
“We would, over time, make improvements to the property, including development of parking facilities and establishment of trails.”
Aiken declined to reveal the location of the property or the funding involved in the purchase while due diligence — a title search, environmental assessment and survey confirmation — is under way.
“We will be reaching out to area foundations and the public, and will also consider applying for state grant funding, for the purchase,” she said, noting fundraising is expected to occur in 2020.
According to Aiken, the Hempfield property is unusual for the trust because of its proximity to Greensburg, its rolling topography and its potential for a variety of uses, including continued agricultural use. The former dairy farm now focuses on rotation of field crops, she said.
“When you walk back through the farm field, you have a feeling of being immersed in nature,” she said. “You’re not aware of the proximity of a major highway, a residential development and the city of Greensburg.”
The farm’s “upland meadow” setting, Aiken said, can provide suitable habitat for several bird species that are active in the area but in need of conservation — including the American kestrel, the bobolink, the Eastern meadowlark, the grasshopper and Savannah sparrows, the chimney swift and the common nighthawk.
The Hempfield farm would be the largest property under the land trust’s direct stewardship.
Founded in 2007, the Westmoreland Land Trust has enlarged county parks and municipal parks, and has conserved nature preserves in North Huntingdon Township and Murrysville.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .