What was once a gravel pit and is now a conservation area is getting closer to becoming a public place for picnics, walking, fishing, bird watching and more.
A shelter with four picnic tables has already been set up and work took place in September on the first trail in the McKean Conservation Area, 8448 Peffer Road.
“It’s a really nice area for a walking trail,” McKean Township Supervisor Janice Dennis said.
The first phase of an improvement project finally kicked off this summer and should be ready for public enjoyment in the summer of 2023, Dennis said. But officials don’t know how long it could be before all six phases are completed on nearly 90 acres near Elk Creek in McKean and Fairview townships.
“This is just the beginning of it all,” Dennis said.
About 43 acres of the conservation area belong to McKean Township, although 27 of those acres are located in Fairview Township, Dennis said. The other 45 acres, including 15 in McKean and 30 in Fairview, are owned by the Lake Erie Region Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust that promotes cooperation among landowners, government agencies, educational institutions, the private sector and volunteers to protect and manage the natural resources of the Lake Erie region.
Dave Skellie, chairman of the LERC board, said land owned by conservation includes wetlands and woodland. The McKean Township-owned property, where improvements are beginning, has woods along the bluff to Elk Creek as well as open space, he said. There is also a communal storage building there.
“It’s a beautiful property,” Skellie said.
Although located in McKean and Fairview, the conservation area and its trails will be open to everyone, Dennis said.
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Dennis said McKean Township received help from Pennsylvania Sea Grant to plan and apply for grants for the improvements.
A master plan for the McKean Conservation Area was completed in 2016 by Pashek Associates. It’s available on the township’s website and Sea Grant’s site, though Dennis said some information, such as the estimated cost of the upgrades, is outdated. The 2016 master plan estimated construction costs to implement all improvements at $1.5 million. Recognizing that few communities and organizations could cover the cost of such a sum at once, the plan proposed six phases.
Plans ultimately call for the McKean Conservation Area to have at least 10 trails/loops, including accessible and natural surface and boardwalk trails; trail signs; trailside seating; departure booths; interpretation panels; parking areas for buses and vehicles; an accessible fishing platform on Elk Creek; a “comfort block”; and the picnic shelter with tables.
“This plan identifies many potential options/opportunities for the site, but neither the township nor the LERC are obligated to complete any improvements other than those currently being undertaken,” said Tom Cermak, local project coordinator for McKean Improvements. and a Coastal Outreach Specialist with Pennsylvania Sea Grant. “I hope these two organizations will be able to recover the items they find valuable over time.”
Pennsylvania Sea Grant got involved because its mission is to promote the sustainability of Pennsylvania’s coastal and watershed ecological and economic resources through scientific research, education and outreach, Cermak said. “In Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie watershed, Pennsylvania Sea Grant works with private landowners and partner organizations to undertake projects that improve public access to the area’s aquatic resources,” he said.
Cermak said the McKean Conservation Area Improvement Project received three grants: $173,000 from the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Community Conservation Partnership Program in 2018; $154,901 from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Access Improvement Program in 2016; and $20,000 from the Erie County Greenways program in 2016.
He did not want to estimate the total cost of the improvements due to fluctuations in the price of materials and labor since the completion of the master plan in 2016.
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Plans were reduced when offers arrived
Dennis said the township planned to use the initial grant money to complete phases one and two when bids were solicited last January.
“They got so high there wasn’t enough money,” she said.
Supervisors looked for new offers. They were still too high, Dennis said. The project was therefore reduced to part of the first phase and a contract was awarded in June to Terra Works Inc. of Clarion, said Dennis. The pavilion was built. Work has begun on Trout Trail, which will be an approximately one-fifth of a mile paved road leading to Elk Creek and will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Township employees will add parking spaces and sidewalks, and portable toilets will likely be installed at some point, supervisors said.
But the accessible fishing platform, additional trails and other amenities will have to wait.
McKean Township Supervisor Ron Bole said he envisions the accessible platform as a fishing spot for the military, especially people with disabilities. Dennis added that it could be a fishing destination for veterans and residents of places like the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Erie.
“Elk Creek is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the area throughout the rainbow trout and spring trout seasons,” Cermak said. “The primary goals of this project are to increase nature-based recreation opportunities in McKean Township and provide better access to Elk Creek for anglers, people looking for a new access point accessible to ADA and other nature enthusiasts.”
Skellie said part of the funding LERC used to acquire its portion of the land came from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and one of the requirements was accessibility for anglers.
“It’s something that we favor as well,” he said.
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Dennis said the area will have other uses besides fishing. School districts could take students there for nature walks and people could go cross-country skiing there in the winter, she added.
“I think this will be a great asset to Erie County,” Dennis said.
Supervisors have said they are committed to further improvements, but they just don’t know when.
“Hopefully we can get more grants,” Dennis said.
Cermak said that once the current work is completed, the partners will re-evaluate the contents of the master plan and “determine the next logical improvements to pursue.”
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Dennis said they don’t want people visiting the McKean Conservation Area now due to ongoing construction. But supervisors were happy to spread the word about what was to come.
“We want people to know it’s there,” Bole said.
Find the region
The entrance to the McKean Conservation Area is located at 8448 Peffer Road in McKean Township, but supervisors prefer that people not visit during construction. Check with municipal authorities for completion dates.