The Central Pennsylvania Conservancy in late February purchased the former watercress farm at the bend on South Spring Garden Street near Bonnybrook Road in South Middleton Township.
The former farm, which is bisected by the LeTort Nature Trail and serves as its southern trailhead, will be the conservancy’s core preserve and the setting for ecological restoration, passive recreation and conservation education, the conservancy said Friday.
“The history, the landscape and the extraordinary conservation value of this property will now be preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the citizens of our community,” conservancy president Ken Waidelich said.
The conservancy closed on the first 30 acres two weeks ago and will close on the last 4 acres in May or June.
To purchase the land, the conservancy had undertaken a fundraising effort that took nearly three years to complete. The total cost was $415,000, raised through county and state grants, along with contributions from South Middleton Township, organizations, residents and businesses.
“It’s a special property that the organization sought to protect since 2007,” said Anna Yelk, the conservancy’s executive director. “Now that deeds commit the property to permanent protection and the public trust, we’re excited to welcome public access and work toward restoration.”
According to the conservancy, the property was first settled around 1720 by James LeTort near a Shawnee village and the intersection of major Native American trading routes.
Ben Mummert, the conservancy’s director of land protection and stewardship, said entrepreneurs found that watercress in 1891 thrived in the spring water of the land. The conservancy and partners are working on testing and research for a restoration design.
“This project marks a new chapter,” Mummert said. “The preserve will ameliorate stormwater, provide aesthetic and recreational amenities to benefit property values and public health, and strengthen a renowned trout fishery and associated angling and tourism industries.”
The organization has established the LeTort Working Group consisting of experts and partners to help guide the restoration process. The conservancy will hold a public dedication ceremony in early fall.