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State Park Will Grow with Land Acquisition

Laurel Hill State Park will soon expand to include more woodlands along Laurel Hill Creek, and a new vista from the peak of a grassy ridge.

The Somerset County property will gain 137 acres when land recently bought by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is handed over to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The park will encompass more than 4,100 acres when the deal is finalized.

Conservancy President and CEO Tom Saunders said his group had been after the land for two years, and just finalized a deal to buy the "Countryman property" with funds from DCNR, the Colcom Foundation, and the Simon family.

"In this economy, often what we're doing now is going to a number of different funders and getting them to all share in the cost, so it's not outrageously expensive for any one," said Saunders, "and because the way the economy is these days, people like knowing others are putting money into a project, too, for better [matching funds]."

Saunders said the property features a creek-side trail, in addition to "one of the most breathtaking views in the Laurel Highlands."

In a statement, DCNR Secretary Richard Allen wrote that the Countryman property's 2,000 feet of frontage along Laurel Hill Creek will add to the fishing and hiking aspects of the park.

"This acquisition also helps to protect the water quality of Laurel Hill Creek and the scenic views of Laurel Ridge," wrote Allen.

The property will not be disturbed by Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, said Saunders, because an agreement has been made to prevent surface development there. He said the only Marcellus activity that could potentially take place would be if a well on a nearby property is able to extract gas from under the Countryman parcel via "lateral" drilling.