A Permanent Agreement Between Us and Nature

About 25 years ago my wife, Sharon, and I decided to purchase 27 acres of woodland adjacent to our family cottage and its surrounding woods in northern Lancaster County. We thought it would be a good investment and an ideal place to build a house or cottage of our own. A little later my parents generously gave us, and each of my three siblings, a 10-acre piece of their original property, allowing us to think more about our dreams. We selected a building site along Kettle Run and became dedicated to the concept of an isolated cottage in the woods. Then we realized that even a small structure and road would leave an unnecessary mark. We already owned a home in Hershey. Why not do something better? Why not protect this land, as is, forever? We contacted the local conservancy and discussed our plans with my family, and it soon followed that we all shared similar stewardship values. Our 37 acres quickly expanded into a fully protected 91 acre preserve. We gifted the entire property to the Lancaster County Conservancy.

Our land is special because it’s where I learned about nature. My parents purchased the original property from Dad’s father in the 1940s and we spent summers hiking and enjoying its natural setting. I became hooked on the insects, plants and birds in the woods of “Tribe Haven.” It was the home of the great American chestnut, and numerous decay-resistant trunks have survived until recently, landmarks of changing times in the forest. We remember the calls of the whip-poor-will, now also gone from the area. However, most things did not change over the last 50 years, and this is what makes the land refreshingly special. In most years, one can witness the beautiful luna moth flickering toward the porch light. Songs of the wood thrush and the veery still fill the last moments of a summer’s day as oblong-winged katydids begin their night of screeching from the underbrush. And now I can say that I have witnessed the emergence of three full cycles of the 17-year cicada! So, the sentimental aspects of our land combined with a life-long interest and respect for its inhabitants make it special.

However, we have come to learn that our land is special because it has no unique features, no endangered wildflowers or creatures; its value to us is measured to a large extent because it is apparently ordinary. As the years have passed, we have accumulated more and more knowledge about the inhabitants, the ecosystem, the biodiversity of our land. What seemed to be rather straight-forward and simple has proven to be complex and fascinating; we have taken a lifetime to reveal only a few of its treasures. This is not a unique quality of our land; there is something special going on everywhere, in large or small habitats. Many of us and many land trusts tend to judge a property by placing too much value on unique features like rare or endangered species or landmarks. In our view, it is invalid to make judgements about diverse systems that we poorly understand. We knew our property was valuable because of its size, but we underestimated its value based on our limited understanding of the ecology and biology. We challenge you to view your land as “ordinary” and then do what you can to protect it; you will be in for a wonderful experience of learning and fascination.

Preserving this land was important to us because we have a tremendous respect for nature and the long-term welfare of all living organisms. We believe that our dominant role as people includes using our wisdom and abilities to maintain a balance for all life. We are all aware of what happens when even small elements of this balance are disrupted. Our decision to not build a cabin was based on observing many of our friends and colleagues building new and bigger houses, taking up those valuable small pieces of land, using too many of the available resources. Instead of building a new house or selling your property, expand your dreams to new horizons. Choose to limit your environmental impact.

We felt that it was essential to protect our woodland by working with the Lancaster County Conservancy to establish a nature preserve. We proudly call it the Rannels-Kettle Run Nature Preserve to signify a union, a permanent agreement, between us and the natural world. Our hands-off management approach will ensure a natural progression of the forest and its inhabitants. We encourage you to establish and implement your own conservation goals, to work with and support your local land trust, and to consider restrictive easements on, or donations of, your own properties for conservation purposes. These commitments are essential to ensure the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations.

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by Stephen Rannels

Lancaster County Conservancy

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