Montour Preserve sounds alarm

Since 2015, 4,338 acres in Montour County have shifted from public to private use, according to the Montour Area Recreation Commission (MARC). Much of the land is in the area of the Montour Preserve, which could also fall into that category if additional funding isn’t attained to support the facility.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the first of 2 detailing the plight of Montour Preserve, a popular recreation spot for the region.

Publicly used land could become private if funding not restored

WASHINGTONVILLE — Since 2015, Montour Area Recreation Commission (MARC) Director Bob Stoudt said 4,338 acres of publicly accessible land in the county has been transferred to private ownership. There’s a possibility the 650-acre Montour Preserve could join that list in just one year.

In late 2014, as Talen Energy was taking over ownership of PPL’s Montour plant, Stoudt said MARC learned educational programming was going to be discontinued at Montour Preserve — which had been owned and operated by PPL prior to Talen assuming ownership.

“(MARC) had done educational events at the preserve for years,” Stoudt said. “We realized that the Montour Preserve is far and away the best outdoor recreational resource in Montour County... We reached out (to Talen) and said ‘what, if anything, can we do?’”

By 2015, MARC was raising funds to continue the preserve’s annual maple sugaring program.

“We realized it wasn’t just the educational programming going away,” Stoudt said, adding that all of the preserve’s features were in danger of being closed to the public.

In May 2015, Stoudt said Talen informed MARC it needed to have an agreement in place by that June in order to keep the preserve open.

“In May 2015, we went public with our first urgent appeal,” Stoudt said. “We needed to raise $100,000 in that month in order to prove to Talen Energy we had the money to fund and operate that site.”

The initial fundraising plea was a success. MARC was granted a one-year lease to operate Montour Preserve.

Stoudt said the lease runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 and is renewable annually — for up to 10 years — as long as MARC can fund operations of the preserve.

“We had that initial success to get up to $100,000,” Stoudt said. “Over the next, say year-and-a-half, we brought in roughly another $150,000.”

Over the last two to three years, only $50,000 has been raised by donations to support the Montour Preserve.

Stoudt said MARC has received a $300,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and a $100,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

“That $100,000 grant funded three capital purchases that we needed for quite some time,” Stoudt said.

New HVAC units for the visitor center were purchased, repairs to the center roof were made and a new tractor was purchased.

“The state grant, we spent the last of it last month,” Stoudt said. “The DCED grant, we will have spent the last of it within the next 30 days. From this point forward, we must rely on the revenue we receive at the site or donations we bring in.”

He estimates it takes $130,000 per year to operate the preserve. MARC’s total budget for the six sites it operates — including Montour Preserve — is $200,000.

According to Stoudt, MARC has enough funds set aside to operate Montour Preserve for one more year.

“The future of the site is uncertain,” he said. “For more than 40 years, our region has, essentially, benefited from PPL’s work.

“PPL, at their expense, had kept the Montour Preserve open,” Stoudt continued. “Many perceived it as a state park, clearly it will always be there. Unfortunately, the reality is, it’s not a state park. It’s privately owned land that is allowed to remain open for public use.”

He noted that Talen Energy has contributed to MARC’s efforts to operate the preserve.

“Last year, Talen provided $20,000, which was a great help,” Stoudt said. “At the Montour Preserve, they continue to maintain the sewage treatment plant. They also maintain the dam and lake levels.

“Without their continued support, taking care of those big-ticket items, we’d have been done a long time ago.”

At the next MARC board meeting on Aug. 26, Stoudt said he must make a recommendation about the organization’s future involvement with Montour Preserve.

“It is my intention to recommend we continue for at least one more year,” he said. “I’m also obligated to tell my board, as of today, our fundraising has fallen completely flat. Today, I don’t see having the funds available to continue it beyond that.”

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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