Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula

A developer wants to lease 400 acres from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a resort on Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula, a tongue of land that extends into Lake Raystown. The Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula is of such high ecological significance that it is designated as a Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Area of exceptional value. The resort proposal envisions marinas, restaurants, “glamour camping” facilities, cabins, and associated infrastructure on public land, despite little evidence that the current users of Lake Raystown have been clamoring for such facilities.

What can you do to help protect the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula from development?

The U.S. Army Corps is now taking public comments regarding revision of the master plan for Raystown Lake. Please leave your comments opposing development at this link: http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Raystown-Master-Plan-Revision/.

Submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers by Laura Jackson, Vice President, on behalf of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society.

Map of the Lake Raystown area from the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory
Map of the Lake Raystown area from the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory

To Whom it May Concern:

Please accept this letter as a formal comment submitted by the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society, with over 300 members residing in Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Centre Counties in central Pennsylvania. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to be considered in the development of the Raystown Lake Master Plan Revision.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society (JVAS) recognizes the diverse recreational resources offered by the Raystown Lake, its economic development potential, the importance of the flood control, and its clean hydropower. More importantly, however, we value the significant amount of relatively undisturbed habitat: approximately 18,000 acres (84%) of the Raystown Lake Project is forested. Since Terrace Mountain provides a forested backdrop to much of the eastern lake shore, we know that sustainable forest management is key to maintaining not only the viewscape, but the quality of water in Raystown Lake. We commend the US Army Corps of Engineers on their work to maintain this important habitat, so vital to maintaining clean water and healthy fish and wildlife.

Furthermore, we applaud the Corps' efforts to establish a Bat Conservation Area on Terrace Mountain in the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula area to maintain roosting and foraging habitat for northern long-eared bats and Indiana bats, as well as other forest dwelling bat species. JVAS supports managing these areas to mimic old growth conditions, which will create better habitat for roosting bats.

Another type of habitat quite different from the forested expanses are the rare shale barrens that occur in the Raystown Lake Project Area. We understand that the shale barren communities in Bedford and Huntingdon counties are one of the most unusual, and also most endangered, ecosystems in Pennsylvania. They are few in number and small in acreage, but contain endemic plant species found only in this habitat. The eleven shale barrens in the Raystown Lake Project are each significantly important since they vary in geographical and environmental features, as well as types of flora and fauna. We appreciate the Corps' dedication to protecting them by designating them as "Natural Areas," which will be preserved in their natural state.

We ask that the Corps continue to protect the shale barrens as designated Natural Areas by placing total restriction of any development in the area, and protecting the steep slopes and fragile environment of the barrens areas from disturbance, except for scientific investigation. Especially important is the restriction of foot travel on the slope and prohibition of watercraft docking at the base of the cliffs.

We are concerned, however, that the 9-acre shale barrens on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is under threat from future development. In the 1994 Master Plan, the Corps pledged complete protection and did not agree to any development on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We know that the current Master Plan update is considering changing the use of this area. In keeping with the Corp's pledge to protect one of Pennsylvania's rarest and most endangered habitats, we would like to emphasize that this complete protection will only occur if the entire Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is protected from development. The 1994 master plan emphasized protection of the eastern shore, which includes the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We feel the eastern shore and Terrace Mountain should remain protected.

The Shale Barrens are also designated as part of the Raystown Biological Diversity Area (BDA), a Natural Heritage Area documented by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory. Within the strata of BDAs, Huntingdon County recognizes Hawn's Bridge Peninsula to be the highest ranking: an "Exceptional Biological Diversity Area." See map at end of letter.

Our request to protect Hawn's Bridge Peninsula from development is supported by many local residents, including the Coalition to Protect Hawn's Peninsula. It is important to note that our request to protect Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is also aligned with the Huntingdon County Comprehensive Plan, 2007 Supplement. Sadly, the businesses and organizations that are promoting development of Hawn's Bridge Peninsula are at odds with the Comprehensive Plan.

Although it is not regulatory, the Comprehensive Plan is an important guiding document for Huntingdon County as it contains, "A Vision for the 21st Century." The Elements of the Vision include, "protection of farmland, forest land, natural resources, and the environment," while emphasizing new development "in and around existing boroughs and villages." It further emphasizes developing "greenways along rivers and ridges."

This vision is further detailed in this excerpt, " The vast majority of land in the County will remain in productive private rural land uses such as agriculture, forestry, and recreation. A system of “Greenways” will be established along mountain ridges, streams, and rivers to protect water quality, to provide habitat for wildlife, to enhance recreational opportunities, and to protect scenic beauty. "

One policy supported in this Vision does include, "the development of a year-round, full-service resort at Raystown Lake." However, we ask that such development should not be along mountain ridges such as Terrace Mountain, or impact rare habitats like shale barrens. Such a resort at Raystown Lake should be on Army Corps property where development already occurs, not in an exceptional Biological Diversity Area like Hawn's Bridge Peninsula.

In conclusion, Juniata Valley Audubon Society supports the protection of the eastern shore of Raystown Lake, specifically the endangered shale barrens which include the one located on Hawn's Bridge Peninsula. We request that Hawn's Bridge Peninsula be reclassified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area and that Terrace Mountain remain as a Low Density Recreation Area in the new Master Plan.

Sincerely,

Laura Jackson, Vice-President

We encourage everyone to provide comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers as they revise their master plan for Raystown Lake. Submit via their website or by mail. Here's some sample text; please use as much or as little as you like, and put into your own words if possible.

To whom it may concern:

The ecological evidence provided in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory demands that the Hawn’s Bridge peninsula be designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area in the Master Plan Revision.

The Hawn's Bridge peninsula is part of the Raystown Dam Natural Heritage Area (Biological Diversity Area) identified in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory. The Inventory characterizes such areas as "containing plants or animals of special concern at state or federal levels, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity." The Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory was administered by the Huntingdon County Planning Commission and identifies and maps Huntingdon County’s most significant natural places. The study investigated plant and animal species and natural communities that are unique or uncommon in the county. It also explored areas important for general wildlife habitat and scientific study. The inventory is a tool for informed and responsible decision-making.

The area in which a marina and other facilities are proposed includes red cedar-mixed hardwood rich shale woodland, and Virginia pine - mixed hardwood shale woodland communities. These rare habitats support two plant species endemic to shale barrens: the shale barrens evening primrose (Oenothera argillocola) (PA Threatened) and Kate's mountain clover (Trifolium virginicum) (PA Endangered). Several invertebrate species associated with shale barrens and the surrounding xeric forest also are found there. These include the southern pine looper moth (Caripeta aretaria), the promiscuous angle (Semiothisa promisuata), and a noctuid moth (Properigea sp.)

According to the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory, "The shale barren communities and associated plant species depend upon the harsh conditions found on these steep, dry slopes where competition from other species is low. Disturbances that can lead to the introduction of exotic and aggressive species are one of the largest threats." The establishment of a marina and associated amenities on the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula would certainly cause the types of disturbances which the Inventory warns against.

In addition, the Hawn's Bridge Peninsula is clearly visible from the Hawn's Overlook and from the Allegrippis Trails. From an aesthetic viewpoint, converting the forested peninsula to an entertainment-oriented facility with a marina would create an eyesore.

Furthermore, Terrace Mountain, adjacent to the Hawn’s Bridge peninsula, should be designated as Low Density Recreation because it contains a Bat Conservation Area, the Terrace Mountain Trail, and steep topography that is unsuitable for development. Visitors to Raystown Lake value the wild nature of the eastern side of the lake. Development should be confined to the western side of the lake, which already has infrastructure to support it.

Therefore, for ecological and aesthetic reasons, I strongly support the designation of the Hawn's Bridge peninsula as an Environmentally Sensitive Area and the designation of Terrace Mountain as a Low Density Recreation area.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

UPDATE: Read the Altoona Mirror's coverage: "Corps rejects resort proposal at Raystown Lake"

***

GOOD NEWS! No development on Hawn's Bridge Peninsula for now... but the possibility remains that it could be developed when the Master Plan is updated. See details below:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District Press Release No. 17-007

For immediate release: April 21, 2017

Contact: Cynthia Mitchell, Baltimore District; 410-962-7522; cynthia.mitchell@usace.army.mil

Army Corps issues decision addressing recreational development proposal on Raystown Lake Project

RAYSTOWN LAKE, Pennsylvania - After a rigorous review process in accordance with federal policy and regulations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Baltimore District, has determined they cannot further consider authorization of Lancer Resources, L.P. (Lancer) recreational development's proposal in the Hawn's Bridge area of the Raystown Lake Project because it is not consistent with the current Raystown Lake Master Plan (MP).

The current MP for Raystown Lake dates back to 1994 and placed an emphasis on protecting the southeast shore, which includes the Hawn's Bridge area. Existing Corps policy reflects that the effective lifespan of a MP is 15- 25 years. Additionally, legislation contained in the recent Water Infrastructure Improvement of the Nation Act (WIIN), Section 1309, signed into law December 2016, requires the MP for the Raystown Lake be updated.

Col. Ed Chamberlayne, commander, Baltimore District, stated that re-entering the MP process would allow the Corps to address any proposed development. "We will immediately seek funding, personnel, and other resources to begin the master plan update," said Chamberlayne. "The update will include public input at appropriate times and preparation of corresponding National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation."

Once funds are made available, the process to complete updates to the MP could take between 18-24 months.

JVAS will be sure to assist in providing input as the plan revision process proceeds.

Reprinted from the Sept-Oct issue of the Gnatcatcher.

JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
JVAS member Alice Fleischer takes a look at the rocky outcropping of Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.

It was a surprisingly pleasant day in late June when we kayaked to Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula in Lake Raystown. We deliberately picked a weekday adventure, to avoid much of the big boat traffic, but we still had to negotiate a few big waves from motor boats. We put in at Snyder’s Run Boat Launch and leisurely paddled along the shoreline. There were just five of us: my husband Mike and me, JVAS member Alice Fleischer, Dr. Eric Burkhart, and his summer intern, Teal Jordan.

We paddled slowly, observing both native and invasive plants that were growing along the water’s edge and into the forest that surrounds most of Raystown Dam. It was a beautiful morning, calm and peaceful, except for the occasional roar of big boats or jet skis. Dr. Burkhart, an expert in wild plant conservation and invasive plants at Penn State, was intently scanning the shoreline, identifying plants that were growing near the water’s edge, or even in shallow water.

Our intent was not just a casual outing; we were heading toward Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula, about an hour’s paddle away on the other side of the lake. Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula is a wild, forested tongue of land that juts out into the lake, at the base of Terrace Mountain. It contains rare shale barrens areas with associated rare plants and insects. We wanted to explore the Peninsula, to learn more about this unusual shale barrens community before it might disappear. The Peninsula is under threat due to a proposed development project.

This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.
This map shows the developer’s plan to transform a native forest with rare habitats into a resort and marina.

For now, we were concentrating on making a list of animals and plants that we found on the peninsula. The rocky outcroppings were beautiful and sparsely vegetated. The extreme conditions mean that very few plants are adapted to withstand the arid, steep slopes. However, we were dismayed to see a number of non-native invasive species gaining a foothold: Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), and Japanese Stilt Grass (Microstegium vimineum) were a few species that definitely did not belong there.

False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.
False Foxglove is a beautiful native flower.

On the other hand, we were fascinated by the diversity of native plant species growing on the shale slopes and in the upland forest. Several native species were new to me: False Foxglove’s (Aureolaria laevigata or A. virginica) beautiful yellow spires were in full bloom, aromatic Common Dittany (Cunila origanoides) was a new mint for my life list of native plants, and I had never seen Creeping Bush Clover (Lespedeza repens) before. There was also a healthy forest on the Peninsula - some big Black Oak (Quercus velutina) and Chestnut Oak (Q. montana) were mixed in with a good diversity of other tree species, including Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana).

While we did not identify any of the rare shale plants or insects, our short study of the Peninsula gave us an appreciation for shale barrens habitat, as well as a renewed vow to try to save it from development. Please sign the JVAS Petition to protect the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.