A recent LebTown article announcing the sale of four acres of county land to a developer near the Quittapahilla Educational Wetland Preserve (QEWP) raised reader concerns about potential impacts that transaction might have on the nature site.
Katie Hollen, watershed specialist for the Lebanon County Conservation District (LCCD), said conservation officials expect no impacts to the wetland given the location of the 3.71 acres of commercial land to the preserve.
The commercial land, at 860 E. Old Cumberland St., was sold in late December to Altoona-based Aspen Hill Partners for $770,000.
“There will be no direct impact to the wetland since that site is downstream from the wetland,” said Hollen. “The wetland won’t receive any effects from any runoff from the construction site via impervious surfaces. Increased traffic will occur in the area, but it won’t harm the wetland, either.”
Information from an undated news article in the Lebanon Valley Conservancy’s newsletter said a number of local educators decided to create QEWP after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection expanded the wetland in 2002 as part of settlement of a mitigation lawsuit.
DEP also, the newsletter states, “worked with local conservation groups to design some shallow and deeper areas within the 7 acre site.”
Once expanded, the preserve was created to provide school students a site to study and explore wetland and riparian habitats. QEWP is home to a plethora of birds, frogs, fish and other aquatic and land-based wildlife and plants.
Between 2004 and 2009, the pavilion and picnic tables were built (from recycled wood), the boardwalk was constructed, educational signage and toilets were installed, and a stone- and grass-lined waterway was added to prevent erosion and sedimentation from neighboring urban stormwater. Since 2004, a variety of plants, shrubs and tree species have been planted around the property by various volunteer groups.
Hollen said educational resources are placed for use as teaching tools for the use of outdoor enthusiasts and school groups who visit QEWP.
“The pavilion has pond nets, macro-invertebrate sorting trays, all kinds of field guides about aquatic vegetation, plants and animals, binoculars to look at various bird species, and educational signs,” added Hollen.
Although the sale of the county land, which is located on the west side of PennDOT’s Driver’s License Center, will not affect the wetland from an environmental standpoint, a much different negative impact has lessened the wetland’s role as an educational tool in the local community.
“Since COVID, there haven’t been any schools or groups using the site, it kind of took a hit – just like a lot of things did,” said Hollen. “Since COVID, no use has been registered. It is a public site, though, so people can come out, walk through it and enjoy the wetlands, but they don’t need our permission to do that. So we don’t have any current numbers for how many visitors there are.”
Hollen said that while the conservation district doesn’t have any current plans to re-engage school officials to use the site for educational purposes, there is hope that educators will return with their students to teach them about nature and the importance of wetlands to the environment.
“There’s no plan in place but there’s a hope that we can start increasing engagement with the site because it is such a great resource to the community,” said Hollen. “We do have sources within local schools and we hope to connect with those who may not know that the preserve is here and that it is a resource to them.”
There is, after all, more than just an aesthetic value to perpetuating wetlands and teaching the critical role they play in Earth’s ecosystem.
“Wetlands are great because they can provide stormwater and flooding control, sediment and nutrient pollution removal, and wildlife habitat, so QEWP being an accessible wetland offers a really valuable learning opportunity that we aren’t currently utilizing to its full potential,” added Hollen.
One upcoming event at the educational preserve will be the United Way’s Day of Caring on April 22. Hollen said LCCD organizes a litter cleanup at QEWP each year for this event in cooperation with United Way of Lebanon County.
If you go…
The preserve is seven acres of wetlands located at the headwaters of the Quittapahilla Creek. The wetland is situated on the southwest corner of Lebanon County ‘s CTC property. It can be accessed from Route 422 East (Walnut Street), just east of Home Depot.
Groups interested in visiting can plan their field trip by calling 717-277-5275 to make a reservation.
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