Take Action

Why Protect Open Space?

Green spaces provide public values benefiting everyone.

Economic Benefits:

Tourism, agriculture, timber production, hunting & fishing, wildlife watching and outdoor recreation pump billions of dollars into Pennsylvania’s economy every year.

Fiscal Benefits:

  • Municipalities and schools districts save money by curbing sprawl and the demands it places on infrastructure and public services.
  • Protecting working farms and forests saves money, preserves the fabric of communities and ensures fresh, local food supply.

Community & Ecological Benefits:

  • Protect drinking water supplies
  • Recharge groundwater & aquifers
  • Provide habitat for wildlife
  • Absorb air pollution
  • Cool communities in the summer
  • Absorb stormwater & reduce flooding
  • Provide recreational & aesthetic values

Each year, America loses five million acres of farms, forests, open spaces and wetlands.

Nationwide, nonprofit organizations have preserved 47 million acres, including nearly 600,000 acres in Pennsylvania.

For more information about land conservation, please visit the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association’s web site at www.conserveland.org, or the national Land Trust Alliance at www.lta.org.

One of Pennsylvania’s 75 Land Trusts

Independence Conservancy is one of Pennsylvania’s seventy-five land trusts working to preserve open space and natural places for future generations. We belong to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and to the Land Trust Alliance, a national network of more than 1700 nonprofit organizations whose 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members have preserved over 37 million acres in the U.S. as of 2010.

Locally, Independence Conservancy has permanently preserved 99 acres of farmland, forest, wetlands and riparian areas. Statewide, land trusts have conserved nearly 600,000 acres of farmland, forest, parks, trail corridors and other green spaces that people love.

What is a Land Trust?

A land trust is a nonprofit organization that, as all or part of its mission, actively works to conserve land by undertaking or assisting in land or conservation easement acquisition, or by its stewardship of such land or easements.

Land trusts work with landowners and the community to conserve land by accepting donations of land, purchasing land, negotiating private, voluntary conservation agreements on land, and stewarding conserved land through the generations to come.

By effectively saving land, land trusts enhance the economic, environmental and social values of their communities. They provide clean water, fresh air, safe food, places for recreation and a connection to the land that sustains us all.

 

Independence Conservancy’s Land Preservation Goals & Priorities

Independence Conservancy is the first and only land trust based in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

Locally, the Independence Conservancy has protected 52 acres by conservation easement and 47 acres by ownership. These lands help to preserve the rural character and environmental well-being of the Raccoon Creek Watershed. Independence Conservancy focuses its land preservation efforts in the Raccoon Creek Region, but we consider projects beyond our home watershed on a case-by-case basis.

The Wonders of Wetlands

U.S. wetlands are vital but threatened. In the 1780’s it was estimated there were 221 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. Today, fewer than 99 million acres remain.

Wetlands in their natural state provide a wealth of values to society and play key roles in our environment. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lists these major wetland values:

Environmental Quality Values

  • Water quality maintenance
  • Pollution filter
  • Sediment removal
  • Oxygen production
  • Nutrient recycling
  • Chemical and nutrient absorption
  • Aquatic productivity
  • Microclimate regulator
  • World climate (ozone layer)

Fish and Wildlife Values

  • Fish and shellfish habitat
  • Waterfowl and other bird habitat
  • Furbearer and other wildlife habitat

Socio-Economic Values

  • Flood control
  • Erosion control
  • Groundwater recharge and water supply
  • Hunting and trapping
  • Recreation
  • Aesthetics
  • Education and scientific research
  • Wave damage protection
  • Timber and other natural products
  • Energy source (peat)
  • Livestock grazing
  • Fishing and shellfishing

Pennsylvania’s wetlands are home to many endangered, threatened or vulnerable plant and animal species. These include the river otter, as well as five species of turtles, two of frogs, three of salamanders, and four of fish.

Land Conservation Tools

Land trusts typically protect open space by acquiring conservation easements or fee acquisition (ownership) of land parcels.

Easement:  A conservation easement is an agreement between a private landowner and a qualified organization, such as a land trust, that protects the natural, cultural and/or historic resources of the land in perpetuity.

The easement agreement allows a land owner to retain ownership and use of his/her property while limiting certain uses that may be harmful to the resources being proetected. It is tailored to the conservation goals of the land trust and the land owner, and to the features of the property itself.

Eased properties may or may not be open to the public, depending on the owner’s wishes. Easements can provide access for trail corridors, fishing and boating, or riparian buffers.

Easement agreements apply to the current and future owners of the land.

Fee Acquisition: Land trusts become the owners and permanent stewards of special properties through bequests, gifts, bargain sale or fair-market purchases of land. Ownership by a land trust can provide the strongest guarantee of long-term conservation.

A wealth of information on open space preservation is available from the national Land Trust Alliance and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.
-Land Trust Alliance
-ConserveLand.org

Can You Go Back?

Can you go back to the fields where you picked blackberries as a child or to the woods where you built a fort? What about the hill where you rode your sled, or the creek where you fished with your friends? Or have those places been turned into look-alike shopping malls, housing plans and big-box sprawl?

Across the nation and right here in Western Pennsylvania, poorly planned development is paving over cherished landscapes, degrading our natural resources and taking away farms that provide fresh, locally grown food.

Nationwide, we consume the equivalent of 5,000 football fields of land each day! That’s more than two million acres a year, 200 acres per hour; 3 acres per minute!*

Sprawl not only wastes valuable open space, but strains municipal and school district budgets to provide new roads, infrastructure and costly public services over a wider area.

Metropolitan Pittsburgh’s population is shrinking at an increasing rate+, yet we convert 40 acres of land for development every day. Once this land is lost, it can never be replaced.

*Land Choices: October 2012.  LandChoices is an all volunteer, 501(c)3 national non-profit advocay organization helping preserve farmland and natural areas, camps and clean water. www.landchoices.org

+The Brookings Institution: Committing to Prosperity: Moving Forward on the Agenda to Renew Pennsylvania, Metro Profile: Pittsburgh, March 2007.

Raccoon Creek Watershed Cleanups

In 1999, an informal coalition of volunteer groups and government bodies agreed to do something about illegal garbage and tire dumps in the valleys of the Raccoon Creek Watershed. The dumps were eyesores, gave a bad impression to visitors and residents of the various communities, and were magnets for more illegal dumping.

The cleanup partners - composed of the Townships of Greene, Potter and Raccoon, the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association (joined with Independence Conservancy in 2014), PA CleanWays of Beaver County (now Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful), Beaver County Department of Waste Management, and the Independence Marsh Foundation (now Independence Conservancy) identified and prioritized several highly visible dumpsites located along public roads. Many targeted sites contained a share of the over 100,000 tires which had been collected from tire shops and illegally dumped into remote areas of the Raccoon Creek Watershed in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

One cleanup campaign was conducted in Potter Township on Pleasant Drive; another on Moffet Mill Road in Raccoon Township; one in Raccoon Creek State Park; and another in Smith Township near Burgettstown.

Pole Cat Hollow Cleanup

The Pole Cat Hollow Cleanup was the largest tire and rubbish dump cleanup conducted in or near the Raccoon Creek Watershed by the informal partnership. Over six thousand fugitive tires were removed and properly disposed from this site alone. The Pole Cat Hollow illegal dump cleanup enhanced abandoned mine reclamation efforts farther downstream at the former Pegg's Run Coal Company. Over $200,000 in Growing Greener grant funds were well spent toward restoring the Pegg's Run Watershed, a part of the greater 20-D Raccoon Creek Sub-basin.

Kennedy Hill Cleanup

The Kennedy Hill dump site in Greene Township contained over 3000 fugitive tires and 175 tons of household refuse. Corporate grants paid to remove all of the tires and much of the trash, which spoiled an otherwise beautiful oak and maple forest. Restoration began in 2006, but funding was exhausted by the end of 2007. Several tons of rubbish and small debris remain.

The various Raccoon Creek Cleanups have removed 22,000 fugitive tires, removed 300 tons of illegally dumped residential garbage, re-vegetated the former dumpsites with native plant species to enhance wildlife habitat and scenic beauty, improved water quality in the Raccoon Creek Watershed by eliminating seepage from these dumps, reduced likelihood of West Nile Virus by removing mosquito-breeding habitat, improved property values and quality of life for neighborhood residents by eliminating fire, safety and health hazards, provided volunteer opportunities for local residents to participate in the cleanups, to monitor the sites after completion, and to deter future dumping.

Stewardship in Action

Watershed Stewardship: Healing and Protecting Our Waterways, Wetlands and Green Spaces

Independence Conservancy is a watershed-based, all-volunteer group of environmental enthusiasts who share a vision of clean water, beautiful vistas and special places in the Raccoon Creek Watershed preserved forever.

We are a leader in environmental restoration initiatives in the Raccoon Creek and nearby watersheds, a well-respected and effective partner in conservation planning, volunteer cleanups, outdoor education and abandoned mine reclamation. In 2014, the members of the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association joined with Independence Conservancy. The Conservancy is the official watershed representative of the Raccoon Creek Region.  

Independence Conservancy works for clean water by owning, operating and maintaining two abandoned mine discharge treatment systems - Solar Mine in Findlay Township, and JB2 in Smith Township. These and three other treatment systems treat 2.5 billion gallons of mine pollution yearly, removing over 600 tons of iron from the headwaters of Raccoon Creek.

Our most recently completed stewardship project is the Raccoon Creek Region Conservation Plan (RCRCP), a cooperative effort with the Washington County Conservation District, Stream Restoration Inc., and the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association (which joined Independence Conservancy en masse in 2014). Funded by an $89,900 Growing Greener grant to the Washington County Conservation District, the RCRCP sought public input to develop a vision for the future of the watershed region. The finished product is a one-stop-shop reference of the natural, cultural, historic and recreational features of the Raccoon Creek Region. 

In 2011, Independence Conservancy completed the Raredon Run Stream Restoration in Independence Township, Beaver County. This $330,000 Growing Greener project was a design-build effort by Wallace & Pancher, Inc. of Hermitage, PA. Natural stream channel stabilization techniques were used to restore 1600 feet of Raredon Run which had been severely damaged by hurricanes in 2004.

Independence Conservancy has partnered with many organizations to clean up tons of illegally dumped trash and thousands of tires from the Raccoon Creek Region.

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is the region or area drained by a river or a stream. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. No matter where you are, you're in a watershed! Watersheds contain our homes, farms, factories, schools, roads, forests—all manmade and natural features, including wetlands.

What is a Wetland?

A wetland is an area that is regularly saturated by surface water or ground water. Its prevalent vegetation is adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

The Wonders of Wetlands

Wetlands are cradles of life! They provide a wealth of values to society and play key roles in our environment, but are vanishing at an alarming rate. Read more from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. (hotlink)

Where is the Raccoon Creek Watershed?

The Raccoon Creek Watershed is in southwestern Pennsylvania, northwest of Pittsburgh near the West Virginia state line.

It is designated 20D in the State Water Plan.

Its headwaters begin in Allegheny and Washington Counties. From there it flows north to join the Ohio River just upstream from Montgomery Lock & Dam near Industry.

Solar Mine Abandoned Mine Drainage Treatment System

The Solar Mine Discharge is located in Findlay Township, Allegheny County, near Bald Knob. This discharge resulted from construction of Section 54C of the Findlay Connector, part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's Southern Beltway project. The settling ponds of the treatment system are visible from the road shoulder, just past the Bavington-Santiago Exit of I-576 westbound. The bulk of the treatment system is a large limestone bed called an Anoxic Limestone Drain or ALD which lies deep under I-576. As the mine water passes through the ALD, iron is removed by chemical reaction with the limestone. Water then flows to the ponds and wetlands where even more iron settles out.

The Solar Mine Treatment System removes about 96 tons of iron yearly from the headwaters of St. Patrick's Run, a western tributary to Raccoon Creek. In 2007, Independence Conservancy retained Hedin Environmental of Pittsburgh to assess existing site conditions and develop maintenance strategies to maximize the useful life of the system. $25,000 in funding for the engineering study was provided by Canaan Valley Institute. Hedin found that the system is highly effective at removing iron and reducing acidity, and, with proper maintenance, should remain functional for another 30 years or more.

Solar Mine AMD Treatment System

 

Rocky Bottom Natural Area

Rocky Bottom Natural Area is Independence Conservancy’s newest preserved property. Donated to us in 2010 by Horsehead Corporation, these two parcels are dedicated by deed restriction to low-impact, non-motorized public access to the banks and waters of Raccoon Creek.  

With almost a half-mile of frontage on a beautiful and popular stretch of Raccoon Creek, the Rocky Bottom parcels flank both sides of Potter Township's Tank Farm on Raccoon Creek Road.

Rocky Bottom is a special place – not only because generations of people have grown to love its quiet beauty – but because of its ecological value. Beaver County’s Natural Heritage Inventory marks the lower Raccoon Creek Biological Diversity Area as a significant forest habitat; the Audubon Society of Western PA designates it as an Important Birding Area and the Nature Conservancy recognizes it as part of the Ohio River Corridor, an area of global significance!

Rocky Bottom, and the lower Raccoon Creek valley in Potter Township, is designated a green corridor by Potter Township’s Comprehensive Plan, Beaver County’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan and the 2007 Beaver County Greenways & Trails Plan. Green corridors are natural connections between places. They offer opportunities for recreation, water supply, agriculture, flood control, wildlife habitat, scenic views and a host of natural values that give character to the places we call home.

Visitors to Rocky Bottom can enjoy a quiet float or paddle on the Raccoon Creek Canoe Trail, wade or fish in the creek, or possibly even see a pair of bald eagles gliding among the treetops.

Independence Conservancy has retained KU Resources, Inc. of Duquesne, PA to design the Rocky Bottom Public Access area on Raccoon Creek Road at Rocky Bottom. Below is an artist's rendering of the proposed project. Future improvements such as parking, signage, boardwalks and picnic areas will depend on direct public support – donations of money, time or materials.

Rocky Bottom Public Access artist's rendering

 

Red Oak Farm Conservation Easement

Red Oak Farm in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, contains 44 acres of mature hardwoods and open fields in the headwaters of Fish Pot Run, a secluded tributary of Raccoon Creek. From the joint efforts of the McConnell Family, Independence Conservancy, and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, the farm is permanently protected with a conservation easement.

The McConnells have returned fallow fields to productivity with dozens of fruit trees and a large vegetable garden specializing in heirloom tomatoes.

The dedication ceremony, held on September 23, 2007, can be viewed here:

 

Little Blue Wetland

Little Blue Wetland is an eight-acre mitigation wetland built by First Energy during the expansion of Little Blue Reservoir in 2007. Independence Conservancy holds a perpetual conservation easement on this parcel to assure that it always remains a haven for songbirds and aquatic life. Located on Red Dog Road in Greene Township, Little Blue Wetland features a shallow emergent wetland, nesting boxes for wood ducks and bluebirds, and a varied-depth aquatic habitat planted in native grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees.

Little Blue Wetland

 

 

JB2 Abandoned Mine Discharge

The JB2 Abandoned Mine Discharge Treatment System was Independence Conservancy's first AMD project. It treats an abandoned mine drainage seep, Joffree Branch 2, located on Cherry Valley Road near Burgettstown in Washington County which used to dump over 60 tons of iron and 8 tons of aluminum each year into the headwaters of Raccoon Creek. The JB2 seep was targeted for cleanup by the Raccoon Creek Watershed AMD Survey and Restoration Plan completed in 2000.

Many organizations and agencies teamed up with Independence Conservancy and the Raccoon Creek Watershed Association to treat the JB2 Discharge.

Independence Conservancy accepted the donation of property surrounding the JB2 discharge to build a Vertical Flow Wetland, a passive system which removes the iron compounds and acidity.

The Washington County Conservation District secured construction grants from the US Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining, the PA Department of Environmental Protection's Southwest Regional Office and the DEP Growing Greener Grants Program. Construction began in the fall of 2003 and was completed in the fall of 2004 at a total cost of $422,535.

Over time, the high concentration of iron in the discharge water repeatedly clogged the system.  In 2009, the Vertical Flow Wetland was converted to a FeAlMn Bed, a different type of passive treatment system which is more effective at treating the JB2 discharge. FeAlMn stands for Iron (Fe), Aluminum (Al) and Manganese (Mn), common pollutants in Acid Mine Drainage.

Independence Conservancy owns, operates and maintains the JB2 AMD Treatment System as a major component in eliminating Acid Mine Drainage pollution from Raccoon Creek, thereby restoring water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational values for the entire watershed.