Will you support independent, non-partisan journalism?
Become a champion of local news and unlock additional benefits as a LebTown member, like exclusive members-only emails, access to comments, invitations to members-only events, and more.
Make an impact. Cancel anytime.
Already a member? Login here
Clarence Schock Park’s Board of Directors and members of Friends of Governor Dick agree on one thing: They want what’s best for Governor Dick Park.
Where they differ, however, is the best way to achieve that goal. At the heart of the issue is the degree to which timber harvesting should be conducted at the park as a forest management practice.
Portions of the park have been timbered on several occasions over the past 10 years, which the friends group says has been detrimental to the overall health of the park’s ecosystem. (The unofficial friends group describes itself as an environmental conservation organization on its Facebook page.)
In a 20-page document (PDF), the group explains that prior harvesting has contributed to forest fragmentation: “Forest fragmentation is the breaking up of large contiguous forest areas into smaller pieces. Breeding populations become isolated from one another and openings in the forest are pathways for the introduction of invasive plants and animals. Opening the forest canopy results in increased light levels, higher daytime temperatures, higher wind speeds, and decreased humidity; these negative edge effects can extend 200 to 300 feet into the interior of the forest.”
The park board, however, has published in 2016 the following information:
“…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.”
Members of the park board also say they are following a strategic plan crafted by forestry experts in 2005 that includes timber harvesting as a way to ensure the long-term health of the 1,105 acres located in southern Lebanon County near Mount Gretna. The park was deeded to Lebanon County in 1998.
The friends group will meet Wednesday, April 19, with the Lebanon County Commissioners, who have ultimate jurisdiction over the park. The commissioners were added as part of the trustee board in 1998 when the park was deeded to the county, and became the sole trustee of the park in 2016.
The county provides payroll services for the park’s three full-time employees, approves appointments or reappoints to the board based on recommendations made by the park’s board of directors, and provides annual county funding. The amount of county funding provided in 2023 to the park is $15,000, according to county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.
Read More: Boardwalk at Governor Dick to be extended with ARPA funds from county
Ryan Fretz, a spokesman for the friends organization, said how the board is self-determined is one of the group’s points of contention.
“That process is an ask of ours, that it be modified, that other groups of people, who have an interest in the park, be allowed to have a seat on the board of directors,” said Fretz, who added that some members have served on the board since it was founded in the late 1990s.
Raymond Bender, park board chairman, said the environmental group has every right to request a meeting with the commissioners, adding that some of the park’s board members will attend the meeting to listen to their viewpoints, take notes and provide a response to the commissioners at a later date.
“The commissioners are the trustees of the park, and they are willing to listen to members of the public who have opposing viewpoints,” added Bender.
Fretz said their top priority is a two-fold request. They will ask the commissioner to place a moratorium on logging at Governor Dick and to re-evaluate the park board’s stewardship plan.
“The health of its ecosystem is our top concern,” said Fretz. “What’s happening is that they (park board) have good intentions, but the way their actions are playing out are harming the forest and it shouldn’t go that way. If it is demonstratively visible that the outcomes are negative, then it shouldn’t be allowed to continue on and on and on.”
Bender told LebTown that the stewardship plan, which was adopted in 2005, is a document the board references regularly for park management guidance. Much of what’s in that original plan was included in a 2016 document drafted by the park’s certified forester, Barry S. Rose, and is titled Conservation Action Plan/Forest Management Plan.
“Our forest stewardship plan is our strategic plan and we visit it regularly. But that particular group would have us, really, discard it as a whole and adopt their viewpoint,” said Bender. “As I said, they are entitled to their viewpoint.”
Bender noted the strategic plan is known by the commissioners.
“They (the commissioners) did have an extensive briefing on the stewardship plan a number of years ago and we did that when (former commissioner) Mr. (Bill) Ames was still alive. The other two commissioners have been in the field with the forester. … It’s not like it (our work) is being done in a vacuum,” he said.
Bender added that the 2016 CAP plan – which was approved by him and the other five members of the board at that time: Dave Eichler, Frank Eichler, Harrison Diehl, Charles Allwein and Tom Harlan – is due to be revisited. (Frank Eichler and Allwein have been replaced on the board since 2016 by David “Chip” Brightbill and Dr. Douglas Becker, assistant professor of biology at Lebanon Valley College.)
Concerning timber harvesting or an outright moratorium on it, that’s a decision Phillips said the commissioners probably will not make.
“My assumption would be that that would be their decision, to manage that property. But again, if there’s a policy change, if logging is part of the cyclical work that they do out there and they’re studying it firsthand, my assumption would be that they would just make those decisions,” he added.
Both Bender and Brightbill told LebTown that no harvest is planned for the rest of 2023 and no future dates are currently on the calendar.
Clarence 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. Schock donated the property to Mount Joy School District, now Donegal School District, in 1953. He died in 1955.
Read More: The sad story of the six-level “Tower House” that once stood atop Mount Gretna’s Governor Dick
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, according to published reports.
The two sides – which have come to be at loggerheads on various issues for close to 20 years – also disagree about a statement within the original deed that was drafted by Schock on April 22, 1954. An excerpt of that statement, which is printed on page 13 of the CAP document, reads:
“TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the tract of land above described with the appurtenance IN TRUST forever as a playground and public park, upon the following terms and conditions: The portion thereof which is now forest or woodland shall be maintained as forest and woodland and where possible additional portions shall be planted as forest and woodland…”
Fretz and his group believe this text indicates that Schock opposed timber harvesting on the land.
“That was Clarence Schock’s intent, that this is a forest,” said Fretz. “His reasoning was that this park is a forest for people to come and enjoy.”
In answering an an email question to the board’s position on the meaning of this excerpt, Brightbill wrote back with the following statement:
“Every trustee since it was written — including when Clarence was alive — had read this to allow the harvesting of trees, obviously as part of maintaining a woodland. This the board has done since the county of Lebanon became a trustee. The language is clear, it ‘shall be maintained as forest and woodland and where possible additional portions shall be planted as forest and woodland.’”
Brightbill also wrote: “It clearly does not forbid cutting trees. Maintenance requires cutting and making choices. My personal belief is this provision is a direction to do exactly as Clarence wanted, which is to use a professional to guide the board in maintaining the property.”
The professional who maintains the park is another issue of the friends group. Past harvest projects have been awarded by the board based on the recommendation of the park’s forester Barry Rose, who is also the owner of Forest Regeneration Services of Gouldsboro. According to Forest Regeneration Services’ website, the company’s mission is “to encourage sustainable forestry by providing sound advice and proven services that promote successful forest regeneration; and to implement such services in a professional and efficient manner.”
“One of our primary asks or requests of the county commissioners and in the letter to the trustees of the park is to get a second opinion, and to get it from someone who is an expert but who is not necessarily drawing their paycheck from the forest extraction industry,” said Fretz.
Brightbill cited Rose’s many credentials, including his bachelor’s degree in forest science in 1986, his work as a consulting forester since 1991, and various industry certifications he’s obtained during his career as reasons the board uses his services.
Editor’s note: Today’s public meeting is at 1:30 p.m. on the second-floor conference room of the county building at 400 S. 8th St.
Read More: Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick celebrates new permanent art installation
Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
Do you want to see more from LebTown?
Support local news. Cancel anytime.
Already a member? Login here
Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.