ALCS Closes on Fabulous Conservation Property in Clinton County
February 25, 2020
ALCS has closed on a fabulous conservation property, a 94-acre inholding inside Kettle Creek State Park, in Leidy Township, Clinton County, PA. It was purchased from Richard "Rick" Doebler, scion of the central Pennsylvania Doebler Seed Company and the Doebler Leasehold, one of Pennsylvania's very first gas drilling companies.
This Doebler property was the last vestige of a 175-year-long, large family land ownership along the banks of Kettle Creek. At one time the Doebler family owned over a thousand acres in the immediate vicinity, from Sugar Camp Run north to Beaverdam Run. A great portion of today's Kettle Creek State Park was built on Doebler family land taken through eminent domain by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of State Parks.
In fact, the current park office sits on the exact location of the old Doebler hunting camp. The family's sawmill was located farther east along the bank of Kettle Creek, now submerged beneath the lake created by Alvin Bush Dam. The Doebler family felled their sawmill's timber on the mountains that now comprise nearby Sproul State Forest.
Richard Doebler's grandfather, David, was born on the property in 1896. David Doebler was one of the very first gas drillers in Pennsylvania, starting his first well right after Dorcie Calhoun drilled his a mile upstream. Kettle Creek State Park now sits atop one of Pennsylvania's largest natural gas storage fields, caverns far beneath the surface now depleted of their original natural gas by the Calhouns and Doeblers in the 1950s.
The 94 acres has been left open to the public for decades, and many park visitors have wet a line for trout in Beaverdam Run, which runs through the property for a quarter mile, or hunted elk, bear and deer on its slopes. Others have ridden the Bearfield Run equestrian trail from the park up into Sproul State Forest; this trail dead-ends on the Doebler property.
"I no longer hunt like I used to, and I support ALCS's conservation goals, so it was time to say goodbye to it," says Rick of his family's last land in Kettle Creek.
The property hosts a wild elk herd, and as of 2018 the property and surrounding area now sit in Elk Hunting Zone 14. After two successful elk hunting seasons there, with elk taken within view and easy walking distance of the property, the elk are not as tame as they used to be!
The long, unusually thin strip of land that runs along the property's eastern boundary is an odd artifact of the frontier days. It is the residual of a court-decreed boundary between Simeon Pfoutz, the first European settler along Kettle Creek, and John Baird, an absentee land speculator and claim-jumper. A large stone monument and bronze plaque at the Alvin Bush Dam overlook tells the story of Simeon Pfoutz.
"We negotiated for a year and a half to get this unique property under agreement," says Josh First, president of ALCS.
"This property's conservation values are through the roof: beautiful native brook trout stream and twelve-acre unspoiled stream corridor filled with native wildflowers, wild elk, interior to a state park, adjoining the state park and state forest on three sides, lots of road frontage, adjoining the equestrian camping area, fantastic views over the lake. We hope that DCNR or a land trust will partner with us in conserving this and leaving it open to the public, but the truth is, we cannot love Kettle Creek State Park and Sproul State Forest more than the public employees who are paid by the Pennsylvania taxpayers to steward these public resources. If DCNR leaders pass up this rare inholding land conservation opportunity, then we can do no more than what we have already done. By offering it for sale to DCNR subject to a fair appraisal, we have done our conservation duty and we have clear consciences, whatever happens with it next," says First.
If a public agency or land trust does not acquire the property, then some family or hunting club will end up with a world class outdoor recreation destination.
"ALCS is in the land conservation business, but that requires public partners. And I guess people also need opportunities to directly and intimately interact with nature on their own terms and schedule. So if this property stays private, then it's not such a terrible outcome when I think of it that way," says First. "There is a lot of exploring and nature adventure to be had on this property."