The “Ephrata Mountain” stands as a vital resource for and symbol of our Borough. Our school district adopted the Ephrata Mountaineer as its mascot. The Borough placed hundreds of its acres in a conservation district. Companies have erected telecommunication towers at its apex connecting us to the rest of the world. And the natural springs that run deeply under its roots feed the town below and speak to our rich history of healing waters.
While we hold this mountain in the highest esteem, little is being done to care for it. It will not stay as it is forever unless we make decisions today to secure this vital asset for tomorrow. How does Mainspring of Ephrata accomplish this? And how does this preservation effort tie into economic development?
Who is Mainspring of Ephrata? Let’s begin by defining what Mainspring of Ephrata is. In 2014, the Borough of Ephrata adopted a Comprehensive Plan for the Borough. This Comprehensive Plan stated that it will, “Designate a lead organization to spearhead and coordinate Downtown revitalization efforts.”
In 2018, Mainspring of Ephrata (the Ephrata Development Organization) was incorporated. Its mission is to improve the quality of life in our community through increased economic opportunity. Though it is an independent charitable organization, it closely partners with the municipality to fulfill the objectives of the 2014 Comprehensive Plan and to improve the quality of life for the community.
What Does Mainspring Want to Do with the Ephrata Mountain?
We want to create the Mountain Springs Recreational Preserve.
Our goals include:
- Map, reopen and promote already existing trails for hiking and bicycling.
- Place designated nature areas into a conservation easement, protecting these areas in perpetuity.
- Draft a conservation plan for the mitigation of invasive plants and repopulation of native species.
- Clearly mark the perimeter of the outdoor archery range for safety purposes.
- Connect the Ephrata Mountain to the Rail Trail using bicycle lanes on side streets and Main Street.
Realizing these efforts on the mountain will foster recreational opportunities in our area while avoiding the disturbance of the natural landscape.
How does the Ephrata Mountain tie into downtown revitalization?
It’s all about creating a destination and connectivity. Main Street Ephrata lacks vibrancy, a healthy mix of businesses, and foot traffic. Installing a retail shop in an empty storefront does not yield the results we all want.
Mainspring shared its three primary goals to achieve downtown revitalization with the community on January 18, 2023. This video recording of the event is available here.
It is through the pursuit of these goals working in tandem that Ephrata will realize the revitalization it needs. Just one of those goals is to market the Mountain Springs Recreational Preserve as a destination for not only visitors but also residents of the Borough and surrounding communities who want to enjoy nature.
Connecting the Mountain to the Rail Trail will be done by incorporating bicycle lanes along side streets and Main Street. Connectivity is essential. Where the Trail and the bicycle lanes meet facilitates the need for businesses to open that complement the recreation trade as well as retain the businesses already operating on Main Street.
The outdoor recreation economy is Pennsylvania’s second-largest revenue generator with $28.5 billion in total economic impact. The recreation trade generated $1.1 billion in tax revenue and supported 246,520 jobs.
Case Study: Jim Thorpe, PA
In the early 1980s, Jim Thorpe, PA, was considered the “armpit of the earth,” according to Bruce Conrad, Carbon County’s former planning and development director. The formation of the Main Street Program kickstarted revitalization efforts. A decade after work began to revive Jim Thorpe, the historic borough became a weekend travel destination and a haven of culture, shops and history. The number of businesses in the downtown area had more than doubled. In some cases, real estate values tripled. This was accomplished largely by promoting the natural landscape and packaging it with the historic preservation efforts. This packaging effort worked and enticed Pocono Mountain visitors more and more. Even though these efforts began in the 1980s, the town continues to thrive and provides a major economic impact to that area.
Addressing the Concerns
Understandably, when one mentions a plan involving “development,” concerns arise of what that “development” actually entails. Mainspring of Ephrata has eliminated the word “development” from its rhetoric for this very reason. The organization wants to enhance, preserve and promote the mountain as a recreational resource using what the Mountain already provides.
Trails already exist on the Mountain. Some have not been used in years, but they can be reopened with minimal impact. Trails and wildlife can coexist. Examples of this can be seen in many locations, such as Mt. Gretna, Reading, and others. In order to minimize conflict between groups of trail users, trails can be allocated to a specific use. A map of the Governor Dick Trail System is provided here indicating the color-coded trails and permitted usage.
Many have expressed concern about trail proximity to users’ backyards; in designing the trail network, Mainspring will encourage a buffer yard between the trails and private property.
The public land located within the Borough of Ephrata is within the Conservation Zoning District. The Conservation Zoning District restricts the usage of the land, prohibiting commercial development or housing. It does allow for trails used for recreation as well as an Environmental Education Center and an established Nature Preserve. Finally, none of the trails on the Mountain will be paved, which eliminates any stormwater issues. Many have expressed concern about trail proximity to users’ backyards; in designing the trail network, Mainspring will encourage a buffer yard between the trails and private property.
Crime and Police Coverage
Whenever a new building is built, or a new park opens, or any initiative is accomplished that is heavily marketed and increases the population of visitors, there is a concern that crime will increase. This is completely understandable. However, there is no correlation or data available showing that crime increased when a park or trail system opened. There is data, however, showing that crime actually decreases when this happens. The more people patronize a location, the less nefarious activity occurs.
“As we have seen from the opening of the Rail Trail, the Ephrata Township Park, and the more recent Heatherwood Bike Park, transformations from unused land to recreational facilities do not create a need for additional police services, nor do they unduly draw on police resources.” ~ Christopher J. McKim, Chief of Police
Case Study: Heatherwood Bike Park, Ephrata, PA
Off of Ephrata’s own Rail Trail, a dirt trail led into the woods and disappeared in the thick brush and foliage. A type of encampment by this trail sprouted, which grew a bad reputation for drug exchange, teen exploitation, and homelessness. When Mainspring partnered with the Susquehanna Area Mountain Bicycle Association (SAMBA) and the municipality to create what is now the popular Heatherwood Bike Park, the encampment disappeared, never to return.
Furthermore, statistics show that blighted, empty buildings are a magnet for criminal activity. In November 2022, the former home of Harlan “Tuffy” Zimmerman located on Ephrata Mountain was broken into twice. The borough had acquired this property in a life lease arranged by Mr. Zimmerman prior to his passing. The home has since fallen into disrepair. This location, the house, and the property serve as the ideal location to access the trails, provide a small parking area for visitors, and remodel the home to become an Environmental Education Center.
Visitors come to a recreational destination because they want to hike and bicycle, bird watch and learn about the natural surroundings.
The Borough of Ephrata owns just over 200 acres on top of the mountain. Though the public acreage is zoned within a Conservation District, that simply means that the use of this land is restricted. However, there are not yet any actual plans to protect and preserve this mountain for years to come. Mainspring of Ephrata would like to change this by exploring Conservation Easement opportunities in partnership with the Lancaster Conservancy. Portions of the mountain can be placed into a Conservation Easement which will protect the acreage from being altered or destroyed no matter who owns the property. This will make further development in the future very difficult.
Furthermore, Mainspring would like to explore efforts to repropagate native trees and bushes (the understory). We want to efficiently and safely mitigate the growth of invasive plants. The dead trees on top of the ridge are prolific and concerning, so the organization believes it would be beneficial to partner with environmental and conservation organizations to assist in these efforts.
Some of the bushes on top of the mountain have actually proven harmful to the bird population. The bird population has significantly declined over the years for a number of reasons. Mainspring would like to foster educational opportunities to teach property owners, visitors, and the overall community how all can be involved in preserving our Ephrata Mountain for future generations. To learn more about Recreational Economy and Nature-Based Placemaking and watch the video, visit: https://padowntown.org/programs/nature-based-placemaking-program/
For additional information or any questions, please contact Joy Ashley, Executive Director, Mainspring of Ephrata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (717) 721-6196.
If you’d like to volunteer for any of our committees, please fill out our volunteer interest form.