For Larry Herr, “conservationist” isn’t a label. It’s a lifestyle.
The North Lebanon County resident technically owns 76 acres of land that simply must be seen to be believed. Herr cherishes that land like some people are obsessed with money.
The land has been in his family going on at least three generations. It’s picturesque and natural. It’s also led to a lifestyle that’s less stressful, more rewarding and — dare we say — more down to earth.
“I can’t put that into words,” said Herr, from a rocking chair on the porch of a house overlooking a mountainous view, about the emotional attachment he has with his land. “Ever since I was young, it’s been in my family. I guess I’ve got to say it’s my life. I’ve never really thought about it. This is my piece of heaven.
“I’m very attached to it,” continued Herr, “as are my kids, as are my family. This is the way I grew up. This is Americana as I know it. I’m working hard, but I’m enjoying what I do. It’s the way it’s supposed to be, in my opinion.”
Herr’s property is located in Union Township, in the middle of nature, somewhere between Camp Bashore and Fort Indiantown Gap. He owns the entire 76 acres now. His son and daughter-in-law have a home on the land, and he lives a few hundred yards up the hill.
It’s been almost ten years now since his wife has passed on. In a couple of months, Herr will turn 80.
“I love everything about it,” said Herr. “I have trails through the property. There’s nothing here that doesn’t give me pleasure. I’m outside. If more people enjoyed Mother Nature, we’d have less illness. I like to look at trees and know that my father planted them. It gives you something to do.
“They aren’t making any more land, and not enough kids grow up here [in places like this],” Herr continued. “Kids’ problems today are they aren’t outside. They don’t get dirty. A wise person once told me, ‘Man needs three things to be happy: hard work, a good chew and a place to spit.’ And we’re running out of room to spit.”
When Herr refers to his mountainous property, he calls it a “farm.” Sure, there are a few out-buildings, including a barn, six head of cattle, some free-range chickens and a Labrador named “Jack” to oversee everything.
But it is so much more. A nice-sized pond is the focal point, miles of trails and a stream run through it, mountains and trees envelope it and the only noise is that of nature.
“I don’t think of myself as old. I feel like I’m in my 60s,” said Herr. “It just keeps you young. You’ve got to stay active. I like to think I’m going to leave this world in better shape than I found it. I know other people are attached to their properties, but when I croak, I’m going to get cremated and buried under a tree here. My family has told me it’s going to be some sort of nut tree.
“Everybody who knows me knows how I feel about my property,” added Herr. “But I wish they would look at me and apply it to their own properties. I think it is more important than anything. I’d like to see more people express an interest in the Lebanon Valley Conservancy.”
In 2003, Herr’s farm became the second property to be preserved by the Lebanon Valley Conservancy. The local nonprofit exists for the sole purpose of protecting Lebanon County natural habitats, historical resources and farmland.
What that means for Herr’s property specifically is that no trails for four-wheelers or motocross bikes can ever be constructed on it and no livestock can enter the stream. But generally, what it means is that the property will always be preserved in a way that stays true to the way it’s always been.
“When they preserved it, we got a tremendous tax break,” said Herr. “By preserving it, you do not lose your property rights or your property value. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not. It means it’s going to stay this way forever. It’ll stay the same. It’s recorded on the deed. It has teeth, and that’s a good thing. It’s almost impossible to condemn a preserved property.
“I can’t do anything detrimental to the property,” Herr added. “It’s a win-win situation unless you want to build a housing development. I’ve seen a lot of farms turned into housing developments, but I’ve never seen a housing development turned into a farm.”
It’s also difficult to put a price tag on sentimentality.
“My great-grandmother was born here in the 1840s,” said Herr. “We knew we were tied to the property, but we didn’t know how closely. When my uncle got sick, my brothers and I approached my aunt about buying it. She wanted to keep it in the family, and it’s going to stay in the family for the forseeable future. My two kids want it when I’m gone, and I’m proud of that.
In 1969, Herr and his four brothers purchased the property from their aunt and uncle, and their parents lived on the property for decades, then after they passed, Herr bought out his brothers. But the land has been in the family even longer.
“When my aunt and uncle had the farm, you could spit across the lawn,” Herr added. “We put a lot more lawn in. We put electricity in every building. We did a lot of things to make it easier. But it hasn’t changed. We stayed very true to the property.”
Although it is believed to be well into the millions of dollars, Herr declined to divulge exactly what the property is worth monetarily. They say every man has his price, but that doesn’t seem to apply to Herr.
“I was offered a lot of money for it, and I turned it down,” said Herr. “My roots are too deep. I can go up into the barn and look at the boards my grandparents held. There’s too much sentimentality. I see a lot of my dad and a lot of my parents in this. Why do I need more money?
“Preserving land is my passion,” continued Herr. “I used to say my goal in life was to piss off as many developers as I possibly can. But unfortunately, money talks. You’ve got to love your land more than you love money. It’s that simple.”
By the way the crow flies, Herr’s farm isn’t far from the hustle and bustle of the city of Lebanon. But in another way, it is a million miles away.
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This article was updated to clarify that property rights are not affected by preserving land.