Penn State University: Musser Gap to Valleylands conservation plan moving forward with community input

The phased plan for how more than 350 acres of Penn State-owned land in the Musser Gap area in State College will be conserved for learning, stewardship, respite and connection was presented to the Centre Region Council of Governments during its general forum meeting on Monday, April 25.

The Musser Gap to Valleyland initiative will conserve 355 acres in the Centre Region for environmental protection and natural recreation. The phased plan will protect the region’s precious water resources, provide a memorable and inspiring trail experience from State College to Rothrock State Forest, and create a safe and inclusive environment for the community.

The project also hopes to steward, celebrate and protect regionally unique natural resources, while also providing opportunities for a variety of passive recreation activities including birding, photography, research and citizen science.

“Our vision for this area is not only to help protect the local water supply, plant and animal species, but also make it a place where people can enjoy nature, learn about the environment and be inspired” said Penn State President Eric Barron, who has earmarked $700,000 through the Office of the President for the implementation of the first phase.

The priority of the first phase, which began early April and will take 1-2 years for completion, is to improve the safety of the at-grade crossing of Route 45 and complete the primary hiking trail alignment upgrades north of the crossing.

“Our vision for this area is not only to help protect the local water supply, plant and animal species, but also make it a place where people can enjoy nature, learn about the environment and be inspired.”

Eric J. Barron, Penn State President

Future phases include the creation of a new primary trail south of Route 45 and secondary trails both north and south of Route 45, removal and management of nonnative invasive species, and plantings of a robust and diverse native canopy.

In December 2019, the University announced it would move forward with seven design elements that received community consensus. The plan was developed in a collaborative effort involving community members and organizations and researched by Penn State students and faculty members. Penn State also engaged with the consulting firm Biohabitats to help examine the site’s design elements.

Some elements of the current plan include connecting the Penn State campus to Musser Gap through the enhancement of the existing trail corridor, continuing restoration of the Slab Cabin Run corridor buffer with a widened floodplain corridor planting and welcoming a diversity of users through design and programs.

As part of the planning phase, the University partnered with the ClearWater Conservancy, a non-profit organization that aims to conserve and restore natural resources in central Pennsylvania, which worked with the local community and sought input from residents.

Deb Nardone, executive director for ClearWater Conservancy, says Penn State’s vision to connect State College to Rothrock State Forest will be a gift appreciated for generations.

“The implementation of the Musser Gap to Valleylands project is a huge step forward in the protection our region’s water supply and the restoration of the Slab Cabin watershed,” Nardone said. “With community support, ClearWater permanently conserved Musser Gap in 2006. It’s encouraging to see Penn State expand these efforts, helping make open space more accessible to everyone as our region grows.”

The Musser Gap to Valleylands property is located roughly between Whitehall Road and Rothrock State Forest at Musser Gap in Ferguson Township. The area includes the Musser Greenway Trail and borders the Whitehall Road Regional Park, which will be maintained by the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency.

Pamela Salokangas, the agency’s director, says her organization looks forward to working with Penn State beyond the Musser Gap Greenway and having the park and Musser Gap area become almost 500 acres of contingent outdoor recreational space for both passive and active community users.

“The opportunity for people to drive, cycle, walk or use public transportation to reach the park and then be able to continue to the Musser Gap to Valleyland lands, and even further to Rothrock State Forest, meets so many objectives of the Pennsylvania Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan,” she said. “We are proud to be joining the conversation with Penn State and ClearWater Conservancy to not only protect these spaces, but to provide for active and passive uses as well.”

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