In an ongoing study on the health of the Great Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified shoreline development as one of the biggest threats to the health of the five Lakes. Conservation groups have continually worked to slow the spread of shoreline development. And now along a stretch of Lake Erie, they’ve scored a major success. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray has more:
In an ongoing study on the health of the Great Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
has identified shoreline development as one of the biggest threats to the health of the five Lakes.
Conservation groups have continually worked to slow the spread of shoreline development. And
now along a stretch of Lake Erie, they’ve scored a major success. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Ann Murray has more:
Tom Furhman and Cathy Pedler with the Lake Erie Region Conservancy have come to what’s
called the Coho site to celebrate.
(champaign bottle cork pops)
(laughs) “Coho ho ho ho!”
This 540-acre tract was named after Coho salmon. It’s the largest undeveloped and unprotected
parcel of land left along Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie shoreline. There were plans to build a power
plant here. Those plans were abandoned and the conservation groups have been trying to get a
hold of it. It’s taken five long years to buy the land.
“We organized a group in ’98 to try to get the utility company to sell it and really there was no
interest to sell that parcel so we partnered with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and most
recently with the Conservation Fund to buy it. And when we thought about the best use we got a
hold of the state and said this could be a great state park.”
After finishing their Champaign, Furhman and Pedler hike down to the western front of the Coho
parcel. Here, the property’s 90-foot cliffs loom over the water’s edge for more than a mile. Pedler
says most of Pennsylvania’s 43-mile long Lake Erie shoreline is privately owned. And
development has contributed to erosion and damage to bluffs. She stands on the property’s
narrow rock strewn beach and admires the unfettered view.
(sound of water)
“You can see just how magnificent this is with the water running over the slate and the high cliffs
and the bare magenta trees and an eagle. Yeah, I think we kind of want to keep that! Laughs.
(sound of waves fade under)
“It is a very significant site.”
Charles Bier is a conservation biologist with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
“It’s really that narrow band of land that’s sometimes less than a half a mile wide. That’s this very
unique interface between Lake Erie and the mainland of Pennsylvania.”
As part of a larger project, the Conservancy performed a natural history inventory of the Coho
property. The site has high bluffs, wetlands and old growth forests. Inland dunes formed 15,000
years ago when glacial movement made the lake elevation higher.
“All of these habitats come together for 11 species of plants that are considered to be very rare
Back on site, Cathy Pedler points out that this parcel of land is also historically important. Pedler
and her husband, Dave, are archeologists. This afternoon, they trudge up a thickly wooded hill
above an access area to Elk Creek, one of the state’s best fishing spots.
“Oh, we’ll go this way.”
At the top of the hill, the trees give way to a large plowed field. The farmer who has leased this
land has unearthed fragments of stone tools and pottery. The Pedlers believe that an ancient
village was located here.
This is really a special property archeologically. It’s not just a site. We think it’s a pretty
significant complex of them.
Six archeological sites on the Coho property have already been inventoried. Some are at least
10,000 years old. The Pedlers think the best way to protect these historic locations and sensitive
natural areas will be to make the land a state park. In the next few months, the Conservancies
plan to transfer the parcel to the state of Pennsylvania.
But some local government officials have raised questions about making the lake front site public
land. They say the stretch of land could be developed and property taxes collected. If it’s put into
parkland, the local government loses that tax money. Gretchen Leslie is spokesperson for the
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Leslie says despite the loss of
property taxes, she sees the acquisition of this parcel as a smart move for the region.
“We believe this property has economic value and that you can locate industrial developments or
business parks in many, many different locations throughout the region. But there are only a few
locations that have such special natural qualities to them that they will serve an important tourism
role. And this is one of them.
(sound of waves)
And the cliffs above Lake Erie are unique. Pennsylvania is a large state, but only a small piece of
the state sits on the Great Lake. And many think that the one-mile stretch of shoreline that Coho
covers is worth preserving.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Murray.