It was hot and sticky, thorny in some parts and mushy in others.
But the trek by about 20 nature enthusiasts down a mile of newly preserved land along the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail was worth it, and then some.
“This is where nature is going to have a place to make its last stand,” Lancaster County Conservancy President and CEO Phil Wenger said during the walk along the trail Thursday.
The conservancy recently acquired 49 acres of forest north of Bainbridge as part of a partnership with Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority for $310,000.
With the transfer complete, nearly a mile of buffer land along the trail will be maintained forever as a free public nature preserve.
The acquisition comes less than two years after the waste authority’s purchase of 119 acres of forest and agricultural land from Talen Generation for $1.51 million.
The authority bought the land with the intent of selling a portion of it along the trail to the conservancy once funding was secured.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided a grant of $271,000 for the acquisition in 2018, and the conservancy made up the rest of the purchase cost through contributions from other organizations, including Pine Tree Conservation Society, High Foundation and Brookfield Renewable, as well as private donors.
Conoy Township supervisor Steve Mohr said such acquisitions are part of a vision he and others at the township had nearly 40 years ago to preserve forested areas in Conoy and beyond.
“Nothing irritated me more,” he said, “than a no trespassing sign.”
Mohr said a portion of land south of Bainbridge was purchased by his family for the same purpose in the 1980s despite his father’s hesitance.
“I can still hear my dad saying, ‘What the hell are we going to do with that? It’s junk land,’ ” he recalled.
His response: “Someday, someone’s going to want to walk (in it), and nobody will be able to keep them out.”
Forest Garden opens
In addition to the wetlands acquisition, a new garden about a half-mile up along the river trail at the Conoy Wetlands Nature Preserve — believed to be the first of its kind in the state — opened Thursday.
The 5-acre Falmouth Forest Garden includes 20 plants that will produce a variety of crops, along with native herbs and wildflowers.
Conservancy officials said the site is believed to be the first forest garden on publicly accessible natural lands in Pennsylvania. It will produce fruits and nuts, including black walnuts, hazelnuts, persimmons, pawpaws and serviceberries.
“Good luck getting any of that before the animals,” joked Brandon Tennis, the conservancy’s director of stewardship.