Centre eyes lease agreement with wildlife foundation



BELLEFONTE — A $1.8 million trails project may be on the horizon for Centre County.

At the Tuesday morning meeting of the Centre County Board of Commissioners, a 25-year lease agreement with the Wildlife for Everyone Endowment Foundation was discussed. The commissioners will look to review and approve the lease agreement at their Thursday morning meeting. The agreement is a requirement for a $300,000 Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grant, which the foundation will match to help fund a recreation project in the Bald Eagle area.

According to Bob Jacobs, director of planning and community development, this project stems from the foundation’s earlier acquisition of 135 acres of reconstructive wetlands west of Julian and Huston Township on Old Route 220. PennDOT had been required to provide these wetlands for remediation of the I-99 construction project, and the foundation acquired a large portion of the acres that were set aside for passive recreation use, which was dedicated in June 2011 as the Governor Tom Ridge Wetlands Preserve.

“The wildlife foundation now wants to develop 55 acres of passive recreation –create trails, boardwalks, some observation areas, ADA-accessible trailheads– on that property,” Jacobs said.

Before Wildlife for Everyone, which now has headquarters in State College, can submit the DCNR application, Jacobs said they need a public entity to sponsor it. Because of this, DNCR is requiring Centre County to lease the land to the foundation for 25 years, which will run from April 2018 through April 2043.

Over the years, the wildlife foundation has been involved in a number of similar ADA and wildlife projects, including one in Berks County, Commissioner Mike Pipe said.

“They’ve done some of these ADA and wildlife projects and have seen great results, so they are trying to replicate that here. It’s a great investment that they’re making in the area and if we can get towards a finale on this and assist them, it would be great,” Pipe said.

He added that when projects have such a long length of a lease, the county has to make sure it is doing its due diligence.

The local legislators are all very supportive of the project, Commissioner Mark Higgins added. The office of State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township did a lot of additional research to assist the county with the project.

“It would be fabulous if we could have an outdoor activity center, specifically targeted for persons with disabilities, in that part of the county,” Higgins said. “I think it would be very popular, people would love it, and it’s a very scenic area: you’re looking up onto the Bald Eagle Mountain which is just on the other side of I-99 at that point, right along the stream.”

Commissioner Steve Dershem agreed. “I’m excited to see it happen,” he said.