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In The Country

Building a legacy

Mark Berg
Board President of Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve

(8/2014) Perhaps you, your family or friends have experienced what Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve has to offer. Each year, more than 10,000 people – students from pre-school to college, hikers, birders, fishers, runners, and others who enjoy the outdoors – visit Strawberry Hill.

Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve was established in 1986 by Frances Morton Froelicher to protect a high-quality cold water watershed and to offer environmental education. The Preserve encompasses 600+ acres just above the Mason-Dixon Line in Hamiltonban Township, Adams County. The Preserve is managed by a non-profit conservation organization; its mission for the last 25 years has been to protect the Swamp Creek Watershed and to connect the surrounding communities with the natural world by teaching, inspiring, and promoting stewardship of the environment.

As the only non-profit environmental education center in Adams County, Strawberry Hill offers a variety of programs for children and adults, as well as schools and community groups, throughout the year, both on and off site. Experienced teacher-naturalists lead guided hikes and innovative nature programs that provide hands-on discovery activities.

Strawberry Hill offers more than twenty grade-specific as well as multiage group programs, and a variety of programs for the surrounding community. The goal of the educational programs is to provide local schools and the surrounding community with hands-on, active outdoor programming that is educational as well as fun. The focus of the programs is on the local environment. Strawberry Hill hopes that after attending a program, participants will have a better understanding of the ecosystems that surround them, leading them to become better stewards of the environment. All Strawberry Hill academic programs conform to the Pennsylvania State Educational Standards for Ecology and Environment as formulated by the State Board of Education.

Strawberry Hill provided low-cost environmental education programs for more than 14,000 school children in just the last three years. Each program provides a "hands on learning experience" that encourages children and their families to become long-term stewards of the environment.

There is also an internship program for college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates. Interns are afforded the ability to gain valuable full-time experience working with a non-profit nature preserve. The interns are immersed in every aspect of the Preserve, from teaching, managing operations, conducting research, and learning about forest and facility management.

Community participation in Strawberry Hill’s educational and recreational resources also saw a significant increase. The increase is a result of many factors, including quality and dynamic programming, and the integral role that Strawberry Hill fills in county- and township-level plans to provide green space and recreation to the growing community.

In 2009, a successful school program about the process of developing maple syrup was expanded to full public participation. Strawberry Hill began to host two full maple sugaring weekends for the general public and organized groups. Also in 2009, in partnership with Gettysburg College, new trail-running activities were developed for recreational and health-conscience adults. They include the Twisted Turkey Trail Tussle 10-mile, 10k, and 1-mile runs.

Since 1986, Strawberry Hill has encouraged children to connect to nature, to conserve and protect the environment, and to become wise stewards of the earth's natural resources by participating in summer camps. In 2012, the camp programs were restructured to offer parents who have more than one child the ability to enroll their children in multiple age groups. The number of campers has doubled every year for the last three years.

In addition to managing its 600+ acres of forest land, Strawberry Hill made major improvements to the educational center and campus area. Improvements began in 2010 with renovation of the Nature Center and have included small educational projects such as the installation of a new sensory garden, an educational habitat pond, bird feeding stations, stormwater management demonstrations, replacement of 150 yards of fencing for safety, and improved access to the parking area.

Renovation of the interior of the Nature Center provided better space for classes and meetings, enhanced the animal and educational exhibits, and resulted in a better classroom environment. The Pennsylvania Bee Keeper’s Association donated a live demonstration honeybee hive. The hive is enclosed in glass and provides a way for the bees to leave the building and manage the hive. Covers can be opened for display or for programs to view the live bees working within the hive. Since its installation, the hive split eight times, introducing new colonies of pollinators to the forest.

Now, Strawberry Hill is embarking on a Capital Campaign to carry out the Master Site Plan that will further enhance the facilities and enable Strawberry Hill to offer more programs and resources for visitors of all ages.

A Master Plan Steering Committee made up of several Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve Board members, a District Forester from Michaux State Forest, the Conservation Coordinator for the Land Conservancy of Adams County, staff from the Adams County Office of Planning & Development, and a Hamiltonban Township Supervisor began meeting in 2010. Throughout the summer and fall, consultants interviewed staff, inspected the preserve, and with the help of the Office of Planning & Development, began mapping the existing site features and resources.

The Strawberry Hill Master Site Plan contains information about the existing Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve site and the use of the facilities by visitors and by the staff of Strawberry Hill. The Plan envisions the development of the preserve in a way that is respectful of the site’s environment, is cost conscious, and most important, satisfies the need to grow and improve the facilities for the programs and uses of the site.

Although the total area of the preserve is more than 609 acres, the Plan focuses primarily on the 10-to-12-acre area which contains the administrative offices, the Nature Center, parking areas and a large pavilion. This central operations area is referred to as the "Campus". An important goal is to maintain the character of the campus by continuing to use a collection of smaller buildings to house the various functions such as nature study classes, meetings, and administration. Being able to accommodate different visitors and uses such as hikers, special events, and school classes simultaneously and with minimal conflict was an important consideration.

Specifically, the enhancements called for in the Master Site Plan include: expanded and improved classroom facilities ; a nature playground; increased parking capacity; a Country Store novelty/gift Shop; a new pond deck and gazebo; renovation of the Nature Center deck; restoration of the foundation of the Lane House and Sawmill; and installation of composting toilets.

This Master Site Plan also recommends upgrades to walkways and the addition of features such as a new perennial garden, an educational produce garden, a strawberry patch, better signage, and general landscaping improvements. Many of the proposed developments incorporate environmental enhancements and/or demonstrations such as the proposed composting toilets, a wetland demonstration for wastewater cleanup, enhancement of vernal pools to facilitate stormwater management, and a pond for habitat education near the Lane House. All new facilities will be handicapped accessible with older facilities being upgraded to meet or improve handicapped accessibility.