Friday, November 15, 2013
NorCo Eyes Preservation of Archibald Johnston Lands
Located along the south side of Route 22 near the Rte 191 Exit, and then extending south as far as the City of Bethlehem, Camel's Hump Farm is much smaller than it used to be. Much of the land has been developed. But what remains is still much like it was when Johnston lived there. Thanks to the generosity of Johnston granddaughter Janet Housenick, Bethlehem Township is the owner of a 55-acre passive use park, which includes the expansive colonial style mansion that Johnston built. Housenick even set aside $2 million to care for the lands.
That's not all, Before her death, Housenick gave the County what is now known as the 36-acre Archibald Johnston Conservation Area. Straddling Monocacy Creek, this land is adjacent to Housenick Park.
But other lands once owned by Johnston are being eyed by developers. Central Moravian Church owns 26 acres along the west side of Route 191 and east side of Housenick Park. The Leckonby Estate owns another 18 acres, located along Santee Mill Road in Bethlehem, on the south side of Housnick Park. Both sites are ideal for "luxury" apartments for yuppies who want to pretend they are at one with nature while they commute daily to NYC. The land on Route 191 is just right for another Scheetz gas station, or yet another strip mall.
Though the Moravian Church and Leckonby have both been pressured, they've resisted temptation so far and have entered into agreements with the County to sell to the Natural Lands Trust. The Central Moravian Church has signed a letter of intent with the County to sell its land for $367,500 from the County's open space fund, with a matching grant from DCNR. Settlement is planned next April. There is an agreement to sell the Leckonby tract for $290,000 in open space funds, with a matching DCNR grant.
This will enable the preservation of a cold water limestone stream with wild trout. The surrounding lands will help preserve that watershed and minimize storm water runoff downstream, like the run off that ruined Musikfest in Bethlehem two years ago. It is possible to link up to paths along the Monocacy leading south to the D and L trail, and north to the Nor-Bath Trail. It would present a seamless park and preserve system, with the Johnston Mansion as a focal point for education, history and community events.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this open space project is its potential for community gardens, in which residents will be able to grow and harvest crops.
But will it happen?
It's not completely environmentally sensitive land. It's not completely a farm. It's not completely a park. It's what they call a "tweener," something with aspects of each. The Open Space Advisory Board gave its blessing to this project at a meeting at Northampton Community College yesterday afternoon, but that's the easy part.
I believe this has a better chance if Council does its due diligence as quickly as it can. If this goes into next year, and Council member Hayden Phillips has a vote, he is likely to conclude that the U.N. is secretly planning to use the site as a launching pad for its black helicopters.