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Glacier Pools Preserve established nature trails with conservation easements

By Staff | Sep 13, 2012

Located between Picture Rocks and Huntersville, owner, Dr. Michael Gross stands next to the welcoming kiosk he built at the bottom of the trail site, known as Glacier Pools Preserve. The walking trails are preserved through the Merrill Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy and are open for the local public to enjoy.

PICTURE ROCKS – The East Lycoming Recreation Authority has gained another tract of land to sponsor for residents in the area to enjoy. Located between Picture Rocks and Huntersville, Dr. Michael Gross and his wife, Rickie have preserved the walking trails they created over the years on the 270 acre property they purchased in 1978. The land is now protected through a conservation easement with the Merrill Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy.

Dr. Gross pointed out that there are several special features to the property which prompted him to seek out a conservancy. His main concern was to keep it undeveloped to retain its character to the community and to hopefully, keep part of it for his children and someday, their children.

The 270 acre property was originally owned by Henry Buck, and through a prolonged court case, eventually purchased by the Gross family for $375 an acre. “Henry was a good businessman and knew how to buy land,” said Dr. Gross. To many long-time locals in this part of Lycoming County, the property was well-known as the Buck Farm.

A name, “Glacier Pools Preserve” has been rightfully christened for the land due to some vernal pools originating from moraine glaciers which can be seen along the marked trails that wind through the property.

After doing much research with several conservancies for the past five years in Central Pennsylvania, the Gross’s decided on Merrill Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy because the easement was made in accordance with their wishes for future use of the land, as well as protecting the land forever. Through two years of negotiations on conservation goals, the couple finalized their plans. They were inspired through Rickie’s family who preserved 20 acres in Montgomery County through private conservation easements.

Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a landowner and a land trust. This allows the land owner to place restrictions on the use of his or her property so that the beauty, wildlife, trees and natural vegetation can be forever protected. Held by a land trust, the land is permanently protected while keeping it in private ownership. Under the easements and subdivision of parcels, some restrictions are placed based on the needs and wants of the landowner.

For those interested in land preservation, a good place to start is with the County’s Planning Commission according to the Gross family. The couple contacted Kurt Hausammann, a local resident of Wolf Township and Director of Lycoming County Planning and Community Development. “The location of land and its unique features are important. We can help coordinate the process and come up with a plan,” said Hausammann, “by starting with a conservancy planning department, and we will recommend local attorneys to help. Really study it for awhile and consult your options. There is a lot to look at.” With an advanced GIS system, the County is equipped to assist in mapping trails or capturing unique areas. With the County’s help, the Gross’s were able to have maps printed and placed inside a box on a kiosk specifically made for the trails and placed at the bottom of the entrance located at 757 Pine Tree Road.

There are also tax benefits with the donation of land placed under an easement. The donation of an easement can be a charitable contribution which can be deducted for federal income tax purposes depending on the difference of the fair market value before and after the restrictions. The landowner retains all other rights over the property including the right to sell, lease, transfer or mortgage. The landowner can use the land in any way that is consistent with the easement. According to guidelines under the conservancy, an easement does not give the public the right to enter the property, unless the landowner specifically requests that this be allowed. Dr. Gross states that he would like to share the property with community residents so that they may enjoy the walking trails that total 2.4 miles, and has created a public access with easy parking.

The Gross family is also working on an agreement with the East Lycoming Recreation Authority. “The role for this property is a sponsorship to promote the awareness of this facility between Picture Rocks and Huntersville,” said Jeff Bower, Director. “It is a collaboration for public access,” replied Dr. Gross who will be responsible for all maintenance. All liability for insurance will be covered under the Recreation Authority, and according to Gross it is a low risk because they are just walking trails. “This was passed under the Recreational Use Act passed 20 years ago by legislature so you can’t sue if someone can walk your land at no charge,” explained Dr. Gross who acknowledged that it is only $100 a month for premiums.

Originally from upstate New York Michael and Rickie Gross came to the area so that Michael could start his medical practice. He was with Williamsport Hospital and started a community health center in Picture Rocks. He also taught at the family residency practice in the hospital. “I grew up in the suburbs and the mountains here attracted us,” he said. “Soon after we moved here, we started to make trails.” He further explained how the meadows were first formed to harvest corn, and since farming was not his practice, Dr. Gross spent his off-time clearing weeds and blazing trails. Sonny Fry was hired to help him pull thousands of invasive shrubs.

Dr. Michael Gross is now semi-retired. He only practices two and a half days a week and enjoys spending time walking the trails he has created with his family that circle the three meadows. “There is always something blooming,” he said as he walks the trails every day. “This has always been my private state park.” By following blazed yellow markers along the way, lush ferns, mossy paths, a stone wall, and a vista overlooking the Allegheny front mountains can be observed. Dr. Gross points to the last of the Wisconsin Glacier where one side is smooth, and the other is rough with ridges of gravel. “Ten thousand years ago ice melted to thin shale and vernal pools will fill here every spring,” he said. Twenty of them are from the glaciers. “This is a healthy forest,” he added.

Once the signage is placed by Chad Peeling, an open house with a welcoming reception is planned for October 13 for the Glacier Pools Preserve.