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Beyond the Mission Statement: Pocono Heritage Land Trust image
November 22, 2021
Beyond the Mission Statement: Pocono Heritage Land Trust

In our effort to create Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.

In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.

Protecting Nature Since 1984

Years ago, Louise Troutman received a letter in the mail from Pocono Heritage Land Trust (PHLT). They were trying to preserve a piece of property near her home in Monroe County, and they were asking for donations.

Troutman had never heard of PHLT, but she definitely knew the place they were talking about. Everyone in the neighborhood was concerned about it.

“It was a 400-acre piece of property in the middle of other developed areas, and we knew it was just a matter of time before someone went in there and turned it into residential housing,” Troutman remembered. “When we got the letter, I was like, ‘This is so awesome that there’s an organization that’s doing this.’”

She sent in a donation and soon started to volunteer. By 2005, the nonprofit was able to purchase the property and turn it into the Kurmes Preserve, which is now home to two hiking trails.

“It’s an amazing story,” Troutman said. “The person who sold it to the land trust sold it for $800,000 less than the asking price because they would have paid that much in taxes on the property. It was an inheritance situation.”

But the work didn’t stop there. The Kurmes Preserve is just one of the many properties under the care of PHLT. Between their nature preserves and conservation easements, they protect nearly 5,000 acres of land (any day now, a pending grant will put them over the 5K mark).

And the work didn’t stop for Louise either. Volunteering led to seven years on the board. And when the Executive Director position came up in 2018, she leapt at the chance to turn conservation into her career. We sat down to learn more about PHLT’s history, their latest projects and the future of conservation in the Poconos.

A Grassroots Effort to Preserve the Poconos

Kurmes Preserve in Cresco, PA

PHLT works with landowners and local government to conserve Monroe County’s iconic landscapes.

PHLT started when a group of Monroe County conservationists realized that the Poconos needed to be protected. The lush forests, crystal-clear streams and rolling mountains were what made the area so special—after all, the natural beauty is what drew tourists to the area for over a century. Yet, these local projects simply weren’t big enough to grab the attention of the national conservation groups. So in 1984, they decided to take matters into their own hands and start PHLT.

As a land trust, the organization works together with landowners and local government. Sometimes, PHLT acquires ownership of the land through a donation or purchase. In other instances, they work with a landowner to form a conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement to keep the area from being developed.

Mother Nature isn’t the only one that benefits. These conservation efforts improve the quality of life for everyone, whether you live in the Poconos full-time or just come to visit. The protected lands keep our drinking water clean, our forests healthy and our natural resources thriving for generations to come. Not to mention, public preserves provide a much-needed space to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and take in the views.

“As the county population continues to grow, we need more open space,” explained Troutman. “New people are coming in. Those new people and all the other existing people need a place to get outside, recreate in nature and get some solace.”

Explore the Outdoors

Fieldstone Farm Preserve in Cresco, PA

PHLT currently has 10 nature preserves that are open to the public.

One of PHLT’s most popular preserves is the Fieldstone Farm Preserve in Cresco. The 52-acre property is home to rustic meadows, serene forests and bubbling springs. There’s also a pond, where you can usually spot their resident beaver working on his dam.

“If you take the loop trail about a mile, it goes right along Tank Creek, so it’s really picturesque and pretty,” suggested Troutman, who hits up Fieldstone Farm regularly with her dogs.

But the biggest draw is the stone farmhouse, which was originally built in the 1910s. The ruins rise up out of the forest, just waiting to be discovered by curious hikers.

The Glen Run Nature Preserve in Stroudsburg is another local favorite, especially for mountain biking. The Pocono Bike Club helps maintain four miles of singletrack trails. The switchbacks and steep hills make it an awesome spot for enduro riding. Hikers can also hit the trails for incredible views over Cherry Valley, the Delaware Water Gap and the Kittatinny Ridge beyond.

Like Fieldstone Farm, Glen Run has an important cultural and historical value too. The property was once home to the Churleigh Inn, a massive, Victorian summer resort. Climb up Godfrey Ridge, and you might spot a set of massive marble steps in the middle of the woods—all that remains of the once-opulent summer retreat. The site also offers an excellent overlook of Stroudsburg.

Gaining Ground in Conservation

Rail Gap Nature Preserve in Stroudsburg, PA

PHLT recently opened their newest preserve and looks forward to exciting projects to come.

PHLT’s latest success story is the Rail Gap Nature Preserve near Stroudsburg. They purchased the 62-acre property in September 2020 and officially opened it to the public in August 2021.

The property once contained a section of the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Railroad. In fact, you can still see the remains of an old railroad bridge and a bit of the old railbed blazing a broad, flat path through the forest. These days, the land contains two trails and the cool, clear Pocono Creek, which boasts Class A Wild Trout Waters.

The main parking lot and trailheads are located on Shafers Schoolhouse Road. A smaller parking lot is located off of Brislin Road, where PHLT hopes to develop more trails in in the future.

It’s still under wraps, but Troutman hinted that even more projects are on the horizon.

“We’re doing work along the Kittatinny Ridge, which has the Appalachian Trail, because it’s a really important birding area. It’s also a really important area for water quality,” she explained. “Some of our other projects are municipal partnerships on some iconic, long-term Pocono properties.”

Get Outside. Get Involved.

Jonas Mountain Nature Preserve in Effort, PA

Visit PHLT’s preserves, join their events and lend a hand.

“Land conservation is a really interesting and fun job, and I think that it has such a direct public benefit. I’m really privileged to do it. I do love what we do,” said Troutman. Laughing, she added, “And I get to go play in the woods.”

But even more, Troutman enjoys introducing people to the outdoors and sparking their interest in nature. PHLT hosts many events to inspire people to get outside, such as guided hikes, educational programs, pollinator walks and more.

Caring for the preserves is a lot of hard work, and PHLT depends on their dedicated volunteers. Every spring and fall, they host volunteer work days where anyone can come maintain the trails, manage invasive plants and do their part to keep the preserves beautiful. If getting your hands dirty isn’t quite your thing, they have opportunities for every skill and interest. And of course, you can always show your support by making a donation or joining with a membership.