ClearWater Farmland Preservation Project Hits Last & Toughest Stretch

May 19, 2017

Where University Drive cuts across the southern edge of State College, the difference between the north and south sides of the road is dramatic. The north side is lined by houses, the State College Friends School and Foxdale Village. To the south is farmland, with mountains beyond.

Deb Nardone walked across the farmland to Slab Cabin Run, which this conservation initiative is named after. Nardone is the executive director of ClearWater Conservancy.

She said Slab Cabin Run isn’t in the pristine shape it used to be in. Many miles of the stream are impaired.

“They’re degraded,” Nardone said, “due to nutrients and sediment, toxic runoff from parking lots and inappropriate agriculture that’s occurring too close to the stream.”

ClearWater will take a small strip of farmland along the banks of the stream out of production and establish a buffer made of plants and fencing.

That’s just a small part of the Slab Cabin Run Initiative, ClearWater’s biggest ever environmental conservation project. They’re raising money to purchase the development rights to 300 acres of environmentally sensitive land. If the effort is successful, this iconic farmland will be protected, forever, from development.

Half the land being preserved is the Everhart Farm and half is part of Meyer Farm, where the cows for Meyer Dairy graze. The Everharts and the Meyers are only selling their rights to develop the land; they’ll still be able to farm after the sale. The Everharts plan to retire and the Meyer family will use the money they make in the sale to buy the Everhart family’s land.

Nardone gives her pitch for the project to community groups who are interested. Her presentation includes a map, where she points out the tracks of farmland ClearWater is hoping to preserve. And right next to that land, she points out an important reason for the project – drinking wells. A cluster of wells immediately downhill from the land supply two-thirds of the State College area’s drinking water.

“We really want people to understand the importance of this kind of a project,” Nardone said. “It’s proactive source water protection. We’re protecting a landscape that people love with the ultimate goal of protecting our drinking water.”

Nardone says protecting this water makes good financial sense too. It could help avoid the need for a multimillion dollar water treatment facility. That’s why the State College Water Authority and several nearby municipalities have already pledged well over a million dollars to the project.

With that money – and a large foundation gift – ClearWater is already more than three-quarters of the way to its $2.75 million financial goal. Now, Nardone says, they’re looking to individuals for support.

“It’s this last leg that’s the most scary,” Nardone said, “because it’s not the $100,000 checks, it’s the $100 checks or the $1,000 checks.”

Nardone has given her pitch for the project to a number of groups, hoping to generate support in the form of both enthusiasm and donations.

She’s seen community members get creative with their fundraising. The State College Friends School did a seed sale and they’re holding a summer concert series. Everhart Village, which borders the Everhart Farm, has hosted fundraising parties and community-wide yard sales. Members of the neighborhood opposed an effort a few years ago to rezone the farmland for residential development.

Shirley Palermo, who lives in the Liberty Hill community just down the road from the land, says she’s excited to get involved. Palermo is 86 and has lived in the State College area for 55 years.

“I’ve had four children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild in that period of time,” said Palermo, “and the beauty that exists in Centre County is absolutely magical and not something I take for granted. And we’re the benefactors and it’s up to us to take care of it.”

Palermo said she likes the rolling fields and agricultural feel of this part of town.

The land likely wouldn’t have stayed farmland this long if not for one man. Nardone says 93-year-old Joe Meyer of Meyer Dairy has repeatedly turned down offers of millions of dollars for this land because he wants it to keep it as a dairy farm.

“He loves his land. He wants to pass on the legacy of his dairy to his family,” Nardone said. “So this was a solution set that allowed them to keep the dairy operating, allowed him to pass that legacy on to his son, and would ensure that Meyer Dairy remained Meyer Dairy in the heart of a growing town.”

Nardone says she’s optimistic ClearWater will pull together the last half million dollars before the deadline four and a half months from now. She says, in 20 years she’ll tell the story of how the community gathered to protect this iconic and environmentally sensitive land…before it was too late.