Over the past 18 years, three timber harvests totaling 180 acres have been conducted in the 1,100-acre Governor Dick Park located near Mt. Gretna.

Those harvests – and a fourth that is to be held but is not yet scheduled – are part of a forest management plan crafted in the mid-2000s by the park’s forester, Barry Rose, at the request of the park’s board of directors. In its simplest form, the plan calls for four harvests totaling about 215 acres as part of regeneration efforts within the forested land.  

“The management plan is a living plan; it changes with time,” said Rose. “We’ve changed our tactics over time to meet the goals that were set in 2005 and to best meet them on the fly over the years.”

Rose noted the plan’s goals haven’t changed over the nearly two decades since they were developed.

“Why haven’t they changed? Because Frank Eichler was a friend and the voice of Clarence Schock,” said Rose. “There are things that can be changed, added or dropped; but the park is to be, in his words, Clarence Schock’s words, a playground for the people in perpetuity – with stipulations.”

Read More: The sad story of the six-level “Tower House” that once stood atop Mt. Gretna’s Governor Dick

One of those stipulations, Rose said, is that the land be maintained as a forest. He added Eichler was integral in the drafting of the plan since he best knew Schock’s intentions. 

“But one of those requirements is that you have to have regeneration within that forest to have it to be able to be maintained,” added Rose. “So what we’re trying to do is set up a regimen to meet their (the park board’s) goals. I took those goals and put them into a plan to best manage the park to meet those goals.”

Rose noted the original plan was approved by the park board, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the latter entity requiring a number of federal regulations to be met before approval was given.

“Once approval was given, the plan was open to potentially receive funding to implement the plan as it was written,” said Rose. “It’s my job to implement the plan once I write it. That doesn’t mean I do the work; I just ensure that the work gets done.”

Members of the Friends of Governor Dick are opposed to the current forest management practices of the park’s board of directors, which includes the implementation of the 2005 plan. In April, the group presented their concerns at a commissioners’ workshop. And last Saturday, the group held a hike with Lebanon County Commissioner Mike Kuhn to show and share their views with him. The park, which was deeded by Schock to be a park in perpetuity, is under the purview of the Lebanon County Commissioners, with a board of directors that manages it.  

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During that walk, organizer Ryan Fretz told participants he believes there’s more to forest regeneration than harvesting, noting there is a delicate ecosystem to be maintained and cutting down trees harms that balance.

Rose noted the plan incorporates five steps that are required by DCNR and the federal government as part of forest regeneration.

“After the harvest was conducted, DCNR came out and said we met all five goals,” said Rose. “After that, we fenced up the area. We put herbicide in the area to get rid of all of the invasive plants. It was broadcast spray because there were too many of them. They were everywhere. And then, you start out with a new seed source that is in the overstory (tall) trees that remain, or they are stored in the soil, the seed source is stored in the soil. When they grow back, you have a representation of what the forest was before the harvest.”

Rose showed LebTown several harvested areas, including one of the first to be harvested that today doesn’t appear – at least to the uneducated eye – as having been harvested nearly 20 years ago.

“The goal was always to have 25 percent large, old-growth trees,” said Rose. “Large, old-growth timber can perpetuate itself for the species composition of the forest. They are a shade taller and can go right up through the canopy at all times.”

A chart provided by Rose to LebTown shows a variety of tree species that are targeted to provide a diverse and, therefore, healthy forest. High and low evergreens, large old trees, maturing and mature hardwoods, pole-sized hardwoods, and deciduous brush are the species to reach that goal. The chart lists those species along with the current acreage where they exist, recommended acreage, and the acreage needed to meet the end goal.

Rose added one harvest was actually mandated by the commonwealth as a way to combat the gypsy moth population, which was devastating forests across Pennsylvania after the invasive species was introduced to the United States. The PA Game Commission and the park board were required to harvest timber in stands across from each other along Route 177 near Route 72, due to the gypsy moth damage. 

“If we would have done what the Game Commission did, a clear cut, the whole way through here – it (the stand) is the exact same size and the exact same species; there’s very little diversity,” said Rose. “Tulip Poplar, a little bit of Black Birch, and two percent of something else. But we did it a different way so that we got biodiversity within the stand without clear-cutting.”

Rose noted forest management is always a learning process, adding that one lesson he learned is the number of times herbicide needs to be applied. 

“This one area required five applications. But I was able to reduce that process down to three (following another harvest) by timing it and what I’ve been able to observe,” said Rose. “I have a routine; and I plan to apply that to the new (harvested) area.”

Another new methodology that will be applied to the next harvest of about 40 acres totally flips the paradigm of traditional tree harvesting.

“The one that we’re going into, we’re going to regenerate the stand and then cut,” said Rose. “We will quickly get the right conditions in the understory, so that we can get oak trees to grow back first, and we’ll allow that process to happen as long as nature allows us to. What I mean by that is, that we have to see a certain number of oak seedlings on the forest floor before we harvest. That way, it (oak regeneration) is already pre-established before the harvest.”

He said the most recent federal funding window, which lasts five years, has ended and the new regeneration method has to undergo an approval process, which will take place this fall. 

He estimated the harvest wouldn’t happen for at least six years (and actually more like eight years or longer), given the various dynamics and environmental factors surrounding the achievement of an adequate supply of oak seedlings on the forest floor. 

When asked if there is common ground between the Friends group and the park board that would appease both entities – especially since it appears that everyone has the best interest of the forest at heart – Rose said he doesn’t believe there appears to be any. 

Rose said the vision of Fretz and the Friends group focuses on short-term results – as pointed out in this YouTube video – while the board of directors is concerned about the long-term health of the forest. 

“I am but one person in this ongoing, long-term process,” said Rose. “What we’re currently doing, and what I believe is the vision of each board member, is to preserve the forest so that 100 years from now, the park can still be enjoyed by future generations. I believe that each member of this volunteer board wants to create a legacy that benefits future generations of people.” 

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...