The size of Swatara State Park is about to grow by more than 130 acres thanks to the transfer of two parcels of land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

As required by the Growing Greener II law, the Lebanon County Commissioners must give their approval, which they did unanimously Thursday at their biweekly meeting, for the transfer of property from The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation to the Bureau of State Parks.

The two Union Township-based parcels are about 136 acres and increase Swatara State Park to just over 3,650 acres.  

Courtney Troutman, park manager of Memorial Lake State Park Complex, said the transfer of the properties serves several purposes.

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“They (Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation) are trying to transfer them to state parks in an effort to conserve the land for wildlife and to extend the buffer with the military base, Fort Indiantown Gap,” said Troutman. “It’s going to protect them from high-noise activities going on at the military base and help the wildlife because this land will not be developed.”   

Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asked whether the land was tax exempt, to which Troutman replied it is because the foundation is a nonprofit organization. Commission chairman Robert Phillips joked, “So you’re not here to lower our tax base.”

Troutman added that the Morgan parcel, which consists of nearly 28 acres, is near I-81 and contains a pond adjacent to the Swatara Rail Trail. 

A spec sheet noted that the parcel contains “forested land adjacent to the Swatara Creek” and “land acquisition would expand the current forested and creekside land cover of the park.” Because the land sits adjacent to the boundary line of the Morgan property, the transfer will provide the potential to expand hiking trails. The pond and parcel will provide wildlife viewing and fishing opportunities.

The 108-acre Stoltzfus property, which borders Route 72 near I-81 and is part of Blue Mountain, will “extend public hunting land, offer a viewscape of the Swatara Gap and Hawk Watch area,” according to information provided by Troutman.

Troutman noted that Fort Indiantown Gap officials have discussed moving the Second Mountain Hawk Watch to the Stoltzfus property, which she said would be a very big project to do. That, however, would require gaining access via Fort Swatara Road and the acquisition of another property, which state officials were unable to achieve due to certain complications. 

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In other business, the commissioners gave approval to the county’s fiscal year 2022 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the amount of $606,961 as administered by the county’s redevelopment authority.

After posting funding requests to all county municipalities and conducting public hearings, the redevelopment authority made funding recommendations for the county’s CDBG program as well as funding requests from Millcreek and South Lebanon townships. The following list includes funding recipients, funds received and intended uses of the funding:

Lebanon County 

  • Volunteers in Medicine: $25,000; public services
  • Lebanon Family Health Services: $33,812; public services
  • Jonestown Borough: $215,000; Market Street curbing, ramps, drainage improvements
  • Lebanon County: $60,104; administration services

The total amount for the county’s portion of the grant totals $333,916. 

Millcreek Township

  • Millcreek Township: $82,925; housing rehabilitation
  • Millcreek Township; $18,202; administration services

The total amount for Millcreek Township’s portion of the grant totals $101,127.

South Lebanon Township

  • South Lebanon Township: $140,973; acquisition/rehabilitation/resale program
  • South Lebanon Township: $30,945; administration services

The total amount for South Lebanon’s portion of the grant totals $171,918. 

The acceptance of the grant from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development for 2022 required passage of three resolutions. 

The resolutions are to: authorize the grant application and for Phillips to sign it; name county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth as the county’s 504 Officer (in case of any fair housing disputes or grievances); and advertise the fair housing notice in local media to inform residents where they can file fair housing complaints.

In a separate action related to the redevelopment authority, the commissioners approved an Act 137 Affordable Housing loan in the amount of $400,000 for 48 affordable, two- and three-bedroom housing units to be located in South Annville Township, just south of Annville Borough. Phillips said prior to the vote that the county’s affordable housing fund does contain enough funding to approve the requested amount. As part of the loan, there is a 1 percent interest rate attached to it.

The total cost of the proposed housing complex, which is estimated to be $17.2 million, must still undergo two funding review processes with Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority officials.  

If the proposed housing complex is approved by the state, construction on Carmany Place apartments would begin near the end of 2023. The homes would be available to families earning as low as $10,000 to around $70,000, with the ideal median income earning range between $30,000 and $55,000 annually.  

The commissioners also voted to:

  • Approve three applications for hotel tax grant funding. Susquehanna Valley Showdown received $6,000 to advertise their livestock competition on July 1, 2023, at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center. Mount Gretna Campmeeting Association received $10,000 for structural support repairs to the tabernacle. And, the Original Mount Gretna Cicada Music Festival was awarded $9,750 for their annual event. 
  • Seek a $20,300 evidence-based practices mini grant for training programs for Probation Services staff.
  • Accept a change of order request for $127,168 for an enhanced wall to prevent vehicles from crashing through the perimeter to gain access to the county’s new 911 center, which is currently under construction and slated to open in 13 months.
  • Provide funding of $16,400 to Mechanicsburg-based Wilson Consulting Group to gather data for a bridge replacement on county bridge #1, which is located over Hammer Creek on Michters Road in Heidelberg Township.
  • Approve the treasurer’s report and the minutes of their Oct. 6 meeting. During the treasurer’s report, the commissioners also approved an Act 57 resolution, which eliminates late fees for any homeowner who purchases a home at the same time that annual real estate tax bills are being processed and mailed to homeowners. It was stated that the county must comply with this state law and that the number of incidents are expected to be infrequent.
  • Received public comment from Claudia Hill, president of the Pennsylvania Gourd Society, who thanked the commissioners for approving the organization’s hotel tax grant funding request to run their 2022 event in June at the Expo Center. Hill said the center is a “real jewel” and added that vendors came from numerous states and attendees from 19 different states, including one from Hawaii who purchased and shipped a large quantity of gourds to their home in the Aloha State.     
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...