On June 20, the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (CPC) announced the purchase of a 79.4-acre mountain property between two previously disjointed tracts of State Game Lands 230 in Cumberland County. The property covers the ridgeline at Cranes Gap on the Kittatiny Ridge and is bisected by a historic segment of Cranes Gap Road, which CPC has opened as a trail. CPC will hold the property and manage it for public access and recreation, healthy forests, and intact habitats. Mountain land which could have stayed in private hands behind “no trespassing” signs or been developed into homes will instead remain wild, forested, and open to the public.
Earl Windemaker of Carlisle purchased the property in 1986—it was the only sale of the property between 1908 and 2018. His nephews and heirs described him as a generous man who loved collecting, hunting, and the outdoors. To protect the property in his memory, they offered it to CPC well below market value.
The Windemaker tract is bisected by old Cranes Gap Road, which was built in 1948 to improve a footpath that had passed over the ridge since colonial times. The road is elevated on a wall built from Tuscarora sandstone and reaches 30 feet at a switchback that affords outstanding views of the Cumberland Valley. The road was formally vacated in 1922; by that time, alternative routes to pass over other gaps had become more popular. Today, the one-mile segment offers an opportunity to hike the mountain. The preserve is open to the public and is accessible from the state game lands or the Tuscarora Trail, which traverses the Perry County side of the ridge.
The acquisition was funded by a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Keystone Fund grant. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Keystone Fund. Over the years, the Keystone Fund has helped land trusts and local governments conserve 161,000 acres of open space.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) was a key partner in the project, facilitating the initial landowner meeting, supporting the survey and title work, enrolling the property in the Hunter Access Program, and serving as a potential transfer entity for long-term management in the future. The Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation also made a critical contribution of $10,000 early on to support the project costs.
The project marks another success for the Kittatinny Ridge Land Partnership, an initiative administered by The Nature Conservancy and formed by seven regional land trusts to advance land-protection efforts on the 185 miles of ridgeline that runs through Pennsylvania. The goal is to protect habitat for migratory birds and mammals while creating recreational opportunities. CPC is also a member of the Kittatinny Coalition, an alliance of organizations, agencies, and academic institutions working with municipal officials and private landowners to conserve the natural, scenic, cultural, and aesthetic resources of the Kittatinny Ridge.
This project effectively demonstrates how conservationists across the board can collaborate to complete an acquisition that would not have been possible otherwise.