ClearWater Conservancy is embarking on its largest project in its 36-year history.
It’s called the Slab Cabin Run Initiative — a proactive source water protection strategy, said Deb Nardone, executive director of ClearWater.
Through the initiative, ClearWater is looking to permanently conserve a little more than 300 acres of agricultural land, Nardone said. The properties ClearWater is looking to conserve are the Meyer Dairy property and the Everhart Farm.
Nardone said Meyer Dairy’s property is “one of the most iconic landscapes” in the area.
“Over the years, many people have come to us with interest in our land. We think a lot of people will be satisfied with this decision,” Joe Meyer, the 93-year-old owner of Meyer Dairy, said in a press release from ClearWater.
Both properties are just outside the State College growth boundary — in College and Harris townships — and in close proximity to the Harter-Thomas Wellfields, which supply the State College area with the majority of its drinking water, she said.
Many people in the area may be familiar with the wellfields because of the controversy surrounding the Toll Brothers’ development project dubbed the Cottages at State College.
The intentions of the initiative are to protect the community’s drinking water, restore the health of the Slab Cabin Run watershed — and all the water that flows downstream — and preserve the agricultural character in Centre County, Nardone said.
“It’s such a positive and proactive project that will mutually benefit virtually everybody in the community and our environment,” said Andrea Murrell, strategic communications coordinator.
At its annual meeting Friday night, ClearWater will be announcing the initiative and its $2.75 million fundraising goal, which needs to be met by Sept. 30, 2017.
“It’s the largest financial project ClearWater has ever taken on,” Nardone said.
The plan is for half the money to come from the municipalities and water authority and the other half to come from public donations, she said.
Nardone said ClearWater is hopeful “the public will come forward and help us fund this venture” given how much interest community members have shown in protecting drinking water; maintaining healthy trout streams; and seeing places like Meyer Dairy be around forever.
“The community will, I have no doubt, be incredibly supportive of protecting this landscape,” Nardone said.
ClearWater has signed a purchase option with the Everhart and Meyer families, which means that once the organization has $2.75 million in hand by the end of September several things will happen simultaneously.
ClearWater will place a conservation easement on the Meyer and Everhart farms, and then the Meyer family will purchase the Everhart Farm, Nardone said.
Essentially, she said, the conservancy will pay Meyer Dairy $1.28 million to acquire its development rights, which is the conservation easement. The easement will be placed on 142 acres.
At the same time, ClearWater will pay the Everhart family $1.3 million to place a conservation easement on that farm, which is 157 acres, she added.
Nardone said once the easements are placed on each property, Meyer Dairy will purchase the Everhart farm for about $940,000, though she said they’re still working on the logistics of that price.
“We have two families that truly care about land conservation, that want to see agriculture conserved in perpetuity for future generations,” Nardone said, “and they want to see that it remains that way forever.”
The conservation easement means acquiring the development rights of a piece of property. The property will remain in private ownership, but there will be a deed restriction with the property indefinitely ensuring that it remains in its current agricultural state, Nardone said.
“It’s so neat because this is a project that everyone’s going to really be able to see with their own eyes just in driving through town... and I think that’s really great,” Murrell said.
The initiative is a joint effort between ClearWater, the families, State College Borough Water Authority and the municipalities — Benner, College, Ferguson, Harris and Patton townships and State College borough, Nardone said.
“I think also many people in the area will be glad to know that (when) the easement is placed on the land, we’ll be able to undergo restoration efforts on Slab Cabin Run, which is a degraded trout stream, and there’s a large portion of it in that land,” Murrell said.
Nardone said the stream restoration component to the initiative is equally important to the drinking water protection component.
The conservancy “celebrated 35 years last summer ,and we are starting to look at what the next 35 years look like — what 2050 looks like,” Nardone said.
“And source water protection, drinking water protection is core to our mission. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a successful strategic plan than with something like the Slab Cabin Run Initiative.”
Slab Cabin Run Initiative
For more information, visit www.clearwaterconservancy.org/slabcabinrun.