It was just a little more than a year ago when the Pennsylvania Game Commission made one of their largest land purchases in agency history spending $5.5 million to add 9,306 acres to State Game Lands 87, in western Clearfield County.
From 1,225 acres, this game land grew to over 10,000 acres when the papers were signed last summer.
While the ink had hardly dried on that transaction, work had been progressing on yet another large land deal and the efforts proved to be successful.
In January, 650 more acres were added and the commission approved the purchase of an additional 4,186 acres in April, making SGL 87 well over 15,000 acres and covering more than 24 square miles.
It is now the largest game land in Clearfield County one of the 10 largest in the northcentral region.
Over 60 people attended the official dedication of the new 4,661-acre addition to SGL 87. The ceremony was held last Sunday at the property, just off of Lee Run Road, west of Grampian. As if to signify the importance of the day, PGC executive director Carl Roe and all of the commissioners were present, with the exception of the newest board appointee Brian Hoover, from Delaware County.
Although rain cut the festivities short at the dedication site, most of the group reassembled a few miles away at Heritage Hall in Grampian, for a dinner furnished by donors and groups such as the Rembrandt Sportsmens Club and the Susquehanna Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Foundation.
Many area sportsmen and women attended the dedication and had high praise for the Game Commissions expansion of SGL 87.
This purchase has some of the best small game hunting around. Now, I have an area where I can go to and run my beagles for a day and not have to worry about the dogs getting on other peoples property, commented Marty Hrim, past president of Pennsylvania Wildlife Habitat Unlimited. This is just great rabbit habitat, even right here around this dedication sign.
Colleen Shannon, Land Management Officer for Clearfield and Cameron counties, noted, This is an important purchase for the hunters of this area. Ive never had so many people thanking me.
Just five months ago, this land was off-limits to the general hunting public because of a private hunting lease. However, even most of the holders of that lease are happy with the PGC purchase.
Jim Painter, president of the 1200-member Rembrandt Club, was one of the 20 individual lease holders.
Our club members hunted here years ago and we were hoping that the Game Commission might buy it and preserve it for hunting, Painter said. It is just so difficult to locate a good place to hunt today. It is great that it became game lands, because it just could have been lost forever. This land has lots of underbrush and provides excellent hunting.
The tract purchased by the PGC had passed from the Graham family to Georgia Pacific, to the Plum Creek Lumber Company, and more recently, to Aquillas and Sallie Peachey, also in the lumber business. The Game Commission attempted to purchase the land at each step along the way.
This is a very significant accomplishment, and it is hard to explain just how difficult this purchase has been, PGC commissioner Dave Putnam stated. Our people are just the best at this. They have a stellar history of negotiating good deals for our sportsmen.
The agencys Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director Bill Capouillez observed, In this case, just reading the commentary in the Game Commission meeting minutes doesnt do these purchases justice. Our closing on this property in this month actually culminates a 25-year effort by our agency to buy these tracts. Mr. Peachy is a tough negotiator.
At one point, Mr. Peachey had a wind-energy lease on his property, which we feel is not compatible with hunting, Capouillez continued. We got a second chance (to reach a deal) when the wind lease ended and was not renewed. We also found out that the Game Commission had a piece of SGL 295 in Centre County, adjacent to Mr. Peacheys hunting camp. The last stumbling block was a hunting lease, which he let expire so that the sale could go through.
The 650-acre parcel was purchased by the Game Commission for $485,000. The larger 4,186-acre tract was purchased for $410,000. This agreement included a land exchange that gave the Peacheys 524 acres of steep and relatively inaccessible land part of SGL 295 next to his hunting camp in Centre County.
Capouillez added, Even though he was tough, we had one big thing in our favor Mr. Peachey is a sportsman very passionate about turkey and deer hunting and he recognized the importance to hunting of conveying this land to the Game Commission, as opposed to it going to a private individual, where it would probably be posted.
Under the agreement, the PGC will share the gas rights for the 524 acres traded to the Peacheys in Centre County. In addition, the Peacheys have been granted the right, through 2026, to harvest some of the larger trees on both new parcels of SGL 87.
We thought that it was better for the hunters to get the land and allow Mr. Peachey to retain partial timber rights than to let the land slip through our fingers, Capouillez explained. In fact, his continued timber harvest for the next 14 years should guarantee that much of the property will be in a constant state of early successional habitat. Early-successional habitat is in short supply on many game lands, and this logging agreement will really benefit grouse and deer.
According to the PGC, the two recent purchases have good hunter access and the habitat is mostly mixed hardwoods, interspersed with herbaceous openings and a large beaverdam complex. The 650-acre parcel includes an 80-acre reclaimed strip mine covered with grasses and regenerating tree seedlings. Many spring seeps are located on the hillsides, as well as small riparian wetlands.
Trout streams are an important part of this purchase, too. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission WCO Vance Dunbar noted, Curry Run is a stocked coldwater fishery that also contains native brook trout. In addition, several of Curry Runs tributaries have nice populations of native brook trout, as does Poplar Run. This property actually has some limestone, which helps to sweeten the water for trout not like what we see in the eastern end of Clearfield County. There is beautiful riparian habitat along Curry Run.
The Game Commission, Pennsylvania Wildlife Habitat Unlimited and the NWTF have already invested money and time in improving the habitat on the 9,306 acres that were added last year. Together with its partners, the PGC has plans to make more improvements on the tracts purchased from the Peacheys.
Between what they bought last year and these tracts we dedicated today, there are just tons of small game habitat with lots of potential for improvement, noted Hrim.
Even though I might never hunt on SGL 87, I am happy to see that the Pennsylvania Game Commission continues to use money generated by Marcellus shale gas agreements on other game lands to purchase new hunting grounds. The state game lands system is something for all hunters and trappers to be proud of.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the PA Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.