Northampton County Receives PA Land Trust Assn. Conservation Leadership Award
Northampton County is located in the Lehigh Valley, the Commonwealth’s third largest metropolitan area. Thanks to the leadership and commitment of the County and its residents, major natural features still dominate the landscape.
The County contains a rich diversity of natural landscapes; four major natural areas exist within the county’s boundaries (the Kittatinny Ridge, PA Highlands, the Lehigh River and the Delaware River) and require vigilance to ensure their protection.
The County has been a leader in protecting open space space and outdoor recreational opportunities within existing natural and recreational corridors.
Through regional cooperation, Northampton County and its municipalities have prioritized safeguarding these lands through acquisition of land and easements, local zoning and planning initiatives and innovation funding techniques.
Preservation of lands, both natural areas and farmland, has consistently been a priority for Northampton County.
The County’s 21st Century Open Space Initiative began in 2002. In 2005, the County Executive and County Council agreed to impose a one-half mill tax increase to support the program through procedures and planning efforts date back to the 1960’s.
The 21st Century Open Space Initiative was established to facilitate the preservation of natural areas and open space lands, farmland preservation and the acquisition, development and rehabilitation of municipal parks.
The Farmland Preservation Program has a hugely successful component of the Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Initiative. In response to urban growth pressures in the 1980’s, Northampton County began preserving farm in 1993. The program has identified innovative ways for funding and assistance while preserving an outstanding 13,853 acres.
In 2005, Northampton County started providing technical assistance to municipalities for the creation of an Earned Income Tax for the preservation of farmland and natural areas. Since 2005, eight municipalities have voted to create a 0.25 percent EIT.
The efforts of creating this program have had significant accomplishments, resulting in 3,424 acres of farmland and 2,176 acres of natural areas and open space preserved in perpetuity.
In 2010, Northampton County created the first ever Township Partnership Program. This program allows municipalities with a designated EIT to dedicated funding to the county specifically for farmland preservation.
The program’s success is clearly evident as the majority of farmlands on the list to be preserved have been preserved. In 2012, it preserved its 100th farm and in 2015 has achieved the preservation of 150 farms.
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director said, “Northampton County has advanced natural areas conservation; municipal park acquisition, development and maintenance; and farmland preservation through its Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Initiative program since 2004.”
Chris Kocher, Wildlands Conservancy President, said, “the County’s program has been critical to the permanent protection of our most important natural resources and is crucial to the municipalities and nonprofit organizations working to preserve land in Northampton County.”
Peter Williamson, Vice President of Conservation Services for the Natural Lands Trust, said, “the County is not only providing funding for protection of lands, but also is integral to the partnerships in the region to identify, improve and guide conservation efforts.”
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