On-going collaborative efforts to acquire a portion of the Gilmore Farm in Girard Township, Erie County, have been finalized, creating a new destination for anglers seeking a world-class steelhead fishing experience, and for outdoor enthusiasts seeking to explore a unique natural resource via foot-trails.
Pennsylvania Sea Grant brought together partners in the fields of natural resources, fisheries science, and land conservation for the effort, resulting in the protection of 179.8 acres of forested floodplains, wetlands, farm fields, and a 100 ft. deep gorge with trail access to 6,325 feet of the beautiful waters of Elk Creek.
The property was acquired through the Lake Erie Region Conservancy (LERC), coordinating closely with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). LERC, with the technical assistance from Pennsylvania Sea Grant, applied for and was awarded over $900,000 in funding from PFBC and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). A short-term loan was provided thanks to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s (WPC) Colcom Revolving Fund for Local Land Trusts.
“Conservation of this property will benefit both Erie County residents and visitors alike as it will be permanently available for fishing and other passive recreational activities,” said David Skellie, coastal land use and economic specialist for Pennsylvania Sea Grant and President of the Board of LERC. “This acquisition will also provide wildlife habitat and protect water quality.”
The Gilmore Farm acquisition project exemplifies numerous efforts, especially in recent years, to conserve the Elk Creek watershed and to provide public access to its waters.
This, and similar acquisitions have been possible thanks to the authorization of the Lake Erie Access Improvement Program by the state legislature in 2004. The PFBC oversees the Program, and to date, acquisition of fishing easements and fee simple property have made 28.71 miles of Lake Erie shoreline and Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed tributaries available to anglers.
Pennsylvania Sea Grant works closely with PFBC to assist in land acquisitions such as the Gilmore Farm, and to promote the Lake Erie Access Improvement Program as an option for landowners within the Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed.
In the coming months, LERC will transfer the property to PFBC to be overseen as a public area, including safe access to the creek, trail improvements and parking.
“The number one issue I hear from steelhead anglers in the Lake Erie region is limited public access to the resource we’ve worked so hard to build,” said Dan Pastore, District 1 Commissioner for the PFBC. “This Gilmore Farm acquisition not only opens up a large section of our world-class fishery, but the diverse and scenic setting will add an element of adventure all its own.”
The purchase of the property was made possible through grants from the PFBC and DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnership Program, which funds efforts to plan, acquire and develop public parks, river conservation and access, conservation of open space and other conservation initiatives.
“DCNR is proud to be a partner in this property acquisition, which we see as invaluable investment in both the Elk Creek fishery and the natural resources of northwestern Pennsylvania,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “With increased access to our waterways comes an increased interest in protecting them and their surroundings.”
WPC’s loan funding is a source of revenue for conservation organizations seeking to preserve open space. “This is a dramatic, beautiful property and we’re very pleased that it is being protected,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of WPC. “This is the kind of property that makes Erie County an amazing place. Drive the main roads in Erie and you have no idea that if you get back into the rural areas there are these magnificent places,” said Saunders. This one is a deep ravine, with steep cliffs, a beautiful stream bed at the bottom, quite the place to hike and explore, ecologically significant,” he added.
And be sure to visit any one of these partner websites: LERC www.lakeerieregionconservancy.org (see Protected Lands); Western Pennsylvania Conservancy www.waterandlife.org; and for information about the Lake Erie Access Improvement Program or to locate additional public access areas for steelhead fishing, use the mapping feature on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s website www.fishandboat.com.