The struggle to bring the park at Governor Dick under new management is not making headlines as much as it used to, but a former resident of Mount Gretna says some people still would like to see the land better preserved.
Lorna Brod, who lives now in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, said her hometown is often in her thoughts, and she’s still active in local efforts to wrest the 1,105-acre tract of land near Mount Gretna – preserved nearly a century ago by late industrialist Clarence Schock – from its current caretakers and return it to a more natural state.
Brod says she speaks for a group of people who want to stop the current trustees from clearcutting the land and selling its timber. “The logging continues. The timbering contracts go on,” she said in a recent interview with LebTown. “There’s an eagles’ nest around where they’re logging now. I don’t think anything is going to change.”
Brod said she hasn’t lived in Mount Gretna “for quite a long time now, but I still go back now. I don’t even hike at Governor Dick any more, because it’s too depressing.”
Trustees did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them through the Governor Dick website. But the topic, which grew heated at public meetings some 20 years ago, is still discussed passionately by a group calling itself the Friends of Governor Dick. In a Facebook group devoted to the Mount Gretna area, a thread of conversation earlier this year allowed residents to vent their frustrations about the land’s use.
“What is happening in the Governor Dick area is simply clear cutting to make money,” Harry Shucker wrote in one comment. “For hundreds of years, those woods prospered without human intervention. Now, we have the audacity to think we have to help those woods survive. Those areas now devastated would still have been there hundred of years after we are gone. Simply sad!”
Shucker said Governor Dick “should have been protected rather than managed.”
In another comment, Scott Robert Reichenbach predicted the land “will become one big briar patch” if current practices continue, while Sarah Minnich wrote that she stays awake at night “thinking about all the turtles, snakes and all the other critters that have been crushed by the equipment used to log. Heartbreaking.”
On the other hand, Patricia Phillips said land managers “gotta clean it up” because “it’s a fire hazard in there.”
Mary Jo Dorogi, who identified herself as Clarence Schock’s great-great-niece in various online discussions about the site, said seeing “the devastation of the beautiful forest at Governor Dick is disturbing to me.” Schock, Dorogi said, “would be so displeased to see the land he left for people to enjoy ripped apart. I pray that this is stopped!!”
Dorogi could not be reached for further comment.
However, in a separate comment online, Dorogi wrote that she has seen photos of recent clear-cutting on the site.
“This should NEVER have happened and shame on those that authorized this destruction. I feel so very sad!” she wrote. “All I’m thinking right now is how distressed Uncle Clarence would be to see what is happening to his beautiful forest.”
Named for a wood chopper
Schock, who made his fortune in oil, purchased the acreage now known as Governor Dick between 1934 and 1940. According to a history provided at parkatgovernordick.org, he began making the land available to the public as early as 1936. The land supposedly got its name from a wood chopper and charcoal burner known colloquially as Governor Dick back in the late 1700s. Schock donated the property to Mount Joy School District, now Donegal School District, in 1953. He died in 1955.
The school district turned over the park’s stewardship in 1997 to the Clarence Schock Trust, a philanthropic organization founded by Schock’s SICO company. Lebanon County commissioners were added as part of the trustee board a year later and, in 2016, Lebanon County became the sole trustee.
Over the years, the mountain’s 15 miles of hiking, biking and horse trails, as well as a six-story observation tower at the peak, have become popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
The public has gotten involved in shaping the course of the land’s use over the years. For instance, public protests killed a plan to build a cell tower on the mountain.
Although trustees did not respond to requests for comment, they have argued in previous interviews that logging is part of a long-term plan that was approved by state foresters to transform the park into a healthy forest.
They say the forest suffers from a lack of biodiversity, too much shade, too many deer and too many invasive plant and tree species.
Another opponent of the trustees’ plan, who asked not to be named in this article, said in an email that the trustees “are right that a lot of bird and mammal species benefit from the new brushy young forest habitat. But there is already plenty of that type of habitat in the surrounding counties. What is lacking in the surrounding counties is habitat for species preferring large tracts of mature old forests that are not disturbed by anything more damaging than footsteps.”
Following the plan
Trustees in 2005 adopted a 25-year Forest Stewardship Plan, which included logging to thin undesirable trees and allow the growth of new trees. They also have approved uprooting invasive plants and the erection of deer fences to protect new growth.
According to previous reports, there was division in the ranks in 2009 when committee members, including botanists and naturalists, advised trustees to let dead trees lie and decompose in place to improve the overall health of the forest – a recommendation the trustees ignored, leading some committee members to resign.
Trustees are nearing the end of a five-year strategic plan, which was approved in 2016 by a board of directors including Raymond Bender, Dave Eichler, Frank Eichler, Harrison Diehl, Charles Allwein and Tom Harlan. The plan was devised by a committee made up of Jane Gockley, Diana Sprucebank, Adam Hartman, Fred Long and Audrey Wells.
A Conservation Action Plan, developed for the site later in 2016, lays out the trustees’ concerns. In a preface, the document states:
“The forest trees are aging at Gov. Dick to the point where most stands are now mature. This stage of growth is good, wonderful, and favored by many. The benefits to wildlife are high, the natural resources are protected and conserved, and recreational opportunities abound. However, relatively few forest tree species are present and most of those species produce seedlings that need large quantities of sunlight to survive. This growth trait in and of itself prevents the seedlings from becoming established and thriving under the canopy of their parent tree. In recent times, environmental imbalances have occurred with certain flora (e.g. invasive plants) and fauna (e.g. deer) which most certainly have stressed the environment beyond a point which can be overcome by the forest itself. We, as managers of all the forest resources at Governor Dick, must do our best to correct the imbalances which have occurred and introduce new tree species that can better compete under the shade of our majestic overstory trees.
“A simplistic path to that end is to: keep what is healthy healthy; try to correct that which is within our means; and limit the breadth and extent of that which we cannot correct (within our means) from further degrading that which we can.”
In a recent update to the forest management plan, trustees explained their reasons for cutting down trees:
“Years ago before the state’s deer herd was so large, most tree seedlings had a chance to grow to maturity,” the statement reads. “Fires and windstorms opened areas in the forest, encouraging more sunlight to reach the forest floor, and seedlings flourished in the light. Deer didn’t browse them, and the forest could regenerate itself in a continuous cycle of growth and death and growth.
“The forest here has practically no natural regeneration due to a large and hungry deer herd. The big trees are beautiful to look at, but take a closer look. The forest is thick with trees in places, and crowded trees grow poorly and don’t produce enough seeds to guarantee new growth, if the deer would let them grow.”
Brod, who has a degree in botany, disagrees.
“A continuous forest without disruption is a healthier forest. It’s one thing to do trail maintenance, to remove fallen trees here and there. But they’re clear-cutting. They’re logging for profit,” Brod told LebTown.
“‘Forest management’ – even the term is offensive,” she said. “Forests manage themselves. That’s what an ecosystem is – the world has been turning a really long time, and I think the forests were happier before we got involved to try to manage them.”
Disturbing a contiguous ecosystem “leaves room for invasive species to come in,” she explained. “It destroys habitats.”
“It’s an ecological crime,” she added. “It’s terrible what they’re doing.”
Brod said trustees have also argued that it’s necessary to log the forest to prevent forest fires… But there’s never been a forest fire in Gretna – ever. This isn’t California. Once you cut down the trees, invasive species come in. You get briar patches. It leaves the ecosystem wide open, and it gets infested… That can be devastating to a forest in the long run.”
The logging continues
It’s been more than 20 years since the school district turned over control of the land, and Brod said some sections of the parkland have been logged almost continually ever since.
“The only way it’s going to change is if the deed gets into the hands of the Mount Gretna community,” she said. “I think we need to sue to get it back, or this is going to continue.”
Some advocates for change have suggested trying to buy out the current trustees, but Brod said the idea “is ridiculous.”
“Clarence Schock already bought the land… for the public’s enjoyment,” she said. “For 23 years they’ve been breaking the law” by violating the deed that specifies the property “shall be maintained and preserved forever as forest and woodland.”
“There was one line in the deed that specified no digging, no cutting of trees or shrubs… with the exception of trail maintenance,” Brod said. “They took that line and ran with it. That’s their loophole for ignoring 99 percent of the deed, which states very clearly that the land is to be preserved forever and in perpetuity.”
Trustees also raised the ire of some critics by clearing more than 4 acres of woodland to build a nature center.
“No one in the community was very happy about that,” Brod said. “This is a sanctuary. It doesn’t need a nature center. Nature speaks for itself.”
Brod would like to see a board of trustees with members from each of the Mount Gretna communities – the Chautauqua, the Campmeeting and the Heights – and she’d like to see a botanist serve as an adviser to encourage conservation, rather than a forester who encourages logging.
She also would like to see an accurate accounting of where all the profits from the timber trade have gone over the years.
When she still lived locally, Brod said she attended trustee meetings regularly. Her involvement lapsed after she moved, she said, but her focus intensified after “a childhood friend called me in tears. People are so upset – everyone in Mount Gretna feels so powerless to stop this.”
She said trustees have expressed a desire to turn Governor Dick into an attraction like Hawk Mountain. Hawk Mountain, a sanctuary in the Blue Mountain Ridge area of the Appalachian Mountain chain, requires visitors to buy a membership or pay a trail fee to hike there.
Brod is eager to ramp up enthusiasm for the fight for Governor Dick and she regrets that a lot of interest has waned over the years.
“I think people got beaten down. They felt like their efforts were in vain,” she said. “Sometimes, people can only handle so much. Everything we said fell on deaf ears.”
She can empathize, Brod said.
“It makes me not want to go back to my hometown,” she confessed. “I love Mount Gretna. It’s always been my sanctuary. But now it depresses me too much.”
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