The Lebanon Valley Conservancy and the Gibble family have joined forces to preserve a Mount Gretna property that includes the former site of Kauffman Park, an amusement park constructed in the 1920s.
The over 53-acre tract at 468 S. Butler Road is situated between the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail and Route 117.
It has been owned by Phares and Joan Gibble since 1960. Phares Gibble passed away in 1998, and Joan is currently in a care facility. Preservation of the property was handled by Ned Gibble, a nephew who lives in Mount Gretna and serves as Joan’s power of attorney.
“As power of attorney, I followed my aunt’s wishes. My aunt and uncle loved that land; they wanted it preserved,” Gibble said.
The land is close to state game lands. It borders the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail for approximately one mile along the northern edge, and it’s bordered by Route 117 on the south side.
On the other side of Route 117 is 1,000 acres of deciduous forest co-held by the County of Lebanon and the SICO Foundation.
The property is mostly forested and there are some wetlands as well as a residence. There are seven springs on the property, which feed into the Conewago Creek. The creek passes through the property from east to west and eventually to Conewago Lake (also known as Mount Gretna Lake), then continues west.
“This property is the eastern gateway to Mount Gretna. It helps to keep the character of Mount Gretna,” said Chuck Wertz, conservancy board member emeritus and co-owner of Wertz Candies.
Gibble, who also serves on the conservancy’s board, said his uncle was a naturalist and did studies on the property.
“He found a number of bog turtles on the property. He numbered each bog turtle and charted their movements. His research is housed in the archives at Lebanon Valley College,” Gibble explained.
He said that four generations of his family have camped on the Butler Road property. He took his grandchildren there for a camp-out this summer.
Gibble preserved 41 acres of the property with the Lebanon Valley Conservancy on Oct. 18. The property is on the market. He said it’s being sold to pay for his aunt’s care.
In 2014, a federal wetland easement was placed on 12 acres of the property.
“Over the years my aunt had several offers by developers to buy the land. Putting the conservation easement on it preserves the land so it can’t be subdivided. That does reduce its value, but it’s the right thing to do, and it’s what she wanted,” he said.
While the property has a number of ties for his family, Gibble said the local community is interested in the land and its historical significance.
According to information from the property listing on Realtor.com, Abraham Lincoln Kauffman bought the property in 1923 and built an amusement park on it.
“It was finished in 1926 with a roller coaster, a carousal, a shooting gallery, a snack shop, bath houses and a million gallon swimming pool. Until 2014, it also had a three-acre lake. By 1929, Kauffman went bankrupt and it was sold to Henry Otto. In 1950, Dr. Dennison bought it and was then sold to the present owner in 1960. Most of the cement swimming pool is still on the property and has become a pond. No logging has taken place since 1951.”
“This (the conservation easement) was a very generous donation by the Gibbles. It’s an important piece of land. There’s been a lot of development pressure in the Mount Gretna area,” said John Schach, Lebanon Valley Conservancy president.
Wertz added that Lebanon County, which is one of the smallest counties in the state size-wise, is the second fastest growing county in the state, according to 2020 information from the Pennsylvania Data Center.
“There’s a lot of development pressure here, so land conservation and preserving our natural landscapes is very important,” he said.
He said the Gibble easement is the conservancy’s 13th easement since its founding in 2000. Since then about 1,000-acres of land has been conserved. By agreeing to a conservation easement, landowners waive their rights to develop the land in perpetuity.
Schach explained that the nonprofit conservancy does not pay for conservation easements; property owners donate the easements.
“We want to be stewards of the natural land in the Lebanon Valley” he said. “Part of our mission also involves preserving land that has historical relevance.”
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