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Citizens helping to fund wetlands protection effort

September 03, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, PA. - Six weeks remain for Washington Township, Pa., to collect donations to further protect its mountaintop wetlands.

The township supervisors will be writing a check for $300,000 when they buy six acres of land off Pennersville Road.

The land, which once was planned for new houses, abuts the 72-acre Happel's Meadow Wetlands Preserve. The meadow naturally filters water and is the habitat for various plants, birds and animals.

"It helps to purify the Chesapeake (Bay)," Township Manager Mike Christopher said.

A state grant will fund half of the purchase, but it requires local contributions for the other half. As of Thursday afternoon, the township had $31,000 in pledges from the community.

"We have $119,000 we're trying to raise to match," Christopher said.

The township supervisors said at their meeting Wednesday that they would find the $119,000 within their budget if necessary, yet they prefer the community-driven effort continue.

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"The citizens are the ones who got the ball rolling," Richard Happel Jr. said Sunday.

The Happel family pledged money, he said, after learning of the public opposition to Mercersburg, Pa., developer Kylea & Associates Inc.'s proposal to build 18 houses on the six acres. Hundreds of signatures filled petitions.

Kylea & Associates Inc. scaled back plans to only include four houses in the Blue Oak development.

"Fourteen lots have disappeared as a result of the deal with the township," Christopher said.

When gathering for a picture, the older Happels told stories from the land's farming days.

Brothers Albert and John Happel farmed the land with other family members beginning in 1902. They used their own drainage system to work with marshy conditions.

The Happels were best known for their celery, although they also had good hay crops that fed animals at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

The farm's vitality essentially ended when Pa. 16 was moved to bisect the property circa 1940.

Charles Gardner Jr. purchased the property from the Happels in August 1963, and his family later donated it to Washington Township. A portion was given to the Pen Mar Youth League for a baseball field.

"It has a lot of biological specimens in here," Eric R. Happel said.

"Although I didn't grow up here, there's a part of me that feels at home here. It's amazing when you look at it how much nature has reclaimed itself," Dale R. Happel said.

People interested in contributing to the land purchase may call the Washington Township office at 717-762-3128.

"Anything made out to Washington Township for Blue Oak would be tax-deductible," Christopher said.

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