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Restoration moves forward in Palmerton settlement

Published June 03. 2013 05:07PM

HARRISBURG - While often less known than some destinations in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh River Basin and the Aquashicola Creek Watershed State offer prime outdoors recreation for everyone from anglers to boaters to hikers to nature photographers.

Now, that area got even better through the purchase of two tracts of land along the Kittatinny Ridge. In making the announcement, John Arway, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which is a member the Palmerton Zinc Natural Resource Damages Trustee Council, said the Moreton and Alpine Motorsports tracts east of Palmerton in the Aquashicola Creek watershed have been purchased.

"The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is extremely pleased that the Palmerton trustees and conservation partners joined in a unique coalition to acquire the Alpine and Moreton properties," Arway said. "Both have high resource and public use values for the area surrounding Palmerton."

In 2009, the trustees received a $21 million settlement from the responsible parties for damages to natural resources at the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site, located about 25 miles north of Allentown. Funds for the two land purchases came from the Palmerton Zinc natural resource damages settlement, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Monroe County Open Space Program, Audubon PA, Blue Mountain Preservation Association, Lehigh Gap Nature Center and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary with the land acquisition expertise of the Wildlands Conservancy.

The 90-acre Moreton property is in the upper Aquashicola Creek and on the north slope of the Kittatinny Ridge. Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge manager Mike Horne said the acquisition will be added to the facility to protect migratory bird and coldwater fish habitat in compensation for habitat injured at the Superfund site.

"The acquisition of the former Moreton property is a crucial step in our land protection and habitat restoration efforts at the fledgling Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge," Horne said. "It is one that would not have been realized without the support of the settlement funds."

The property includes a segment of Aquashicola Creek bounded by more than 15 acres of floodplain wetlands, a tributary to the creek, forested upland, former pasture and is home to the federally endangered bog turtle. It will also provide recreational opportunities including bird watching, nature walking, fishing and hunting.

The Alpine Motorsport tract is 354 acres with upland, streams and wetlands within the Aquashicola Creek watershed. The former owner planned to develop the property as an auto sport driving facility with hotel and restaurant facilities, but the property is now under Pennsylvania Game Commission ownership as part of State Game Lands 168.

"It will be managed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat damaged at Palmerton Zinc," PGC Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director Bill Capouillez said. "It also provides recreational opportunities such as bird watching, nature photography, hiking, hunting and fishing."

Wildlands Conservancy president Chris Kocher considers the Alpine acquisition "one of the most significant conservation deals in our land trust's history."

Protecting these properties meshes well with other wider conservation initiatives within the area surrounding Palmerton and are located near the National Park Service Appalachian Trail, other parts of SGL 168 and several permanent easements under the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland Reserve Program in the Aquashicola Creek drainage. Collectively, these public lands protect the outstanding natural resources of the Kittatinny Ridge while providing abundant recreational opportunities.

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