Our Vision

In keeping with our unique land-grant mandate to meet the educational, research, and extension needs of the Commonwealth, the College of Agricultural Sciences purchased approximately 452 acres of land bordering the Spring Creek Canyon in Benner Township, previously owned by the State Correctional Institution at Rockview. The land transfer was part of a collaborative process that also resulted in the Pennsylvania Game Commission receiving about 1,200 mostly wooded acres, the state Fish and Boat Commission getting a 141-acre parcel that includes Spring Creek Canyon, and Benner Township assuming ownership of nearly 25 acres.The college will work with all partner land owners to achieve comprehensive management goals on the property.  

The Rockview property – those acres not in the Canyon proper – is currently a mixture of forests, orchard, open fields, and crop land. The land represents a unique opportunity for the College to invest in innovative educational and research programs that advance our understanding and capacity to produce food, materials, and energy sustainably, respectful of and enriching the ecological services provided by the land and landscape.

The upland forests on the Rockview property could provide a variety of educational and research opportunities to students and faculty. Students currently travel 30 minutes to classes at our Stone Valley forests; Rockview would provide a more convenient location for the study of forest health and sustainable management principles. Participation in planning and implementing reforestation projects – beginning with the most critical areas where fragmented patches should be connected to protect key interior forest habitats and sensitive ecological areas – will provide exceptional insight into forest-management decisions. The Rockview property provides key opportunities to consider which plant species ought to characterize a restoration area and which methods are most effective at promoting reforestation in the face of barriers such as invasive species and deer browsing.

Areas of the property now in agricultural production could provide an excellent land base for studies on sustainable biomass production in support of a biofuels industry that is compatible with the climate and land resources of Pennsylvania. Corn-based ethanol, the main biofuel produced today, likely represents a transition state in fuel production. Future bio-based fuels will rely on a different set of feedstocks, but research-based knowledge to inform the best choices for Pennsylvania is lacking. Portions of the Rockview property would be ideal for exploring perennial grasses and other plant-based feedstocks. Despite the large tracts of land that we manage in central Pennsylvania, we do not have land that can be committed to these sorts of long-term experiments without displacing other essential research projects.

The Rockview property also offers an ideal opportunity to expand research to help Pennsylvania’s organic producers. The most recent Census of Agriculture reveals that Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation in the value of organic products sold. There are vast research needs in this arena – a production approach that is sought by consumers and producers alike. We have certified-organic land on our Rock Springs farm, but these 10 acres are inadequate for the extent of research that is needed, and we are planning for an additional 100 acres. Access to the Rockview property could provide an alternative location for organic research.

The Rockview property is threatened by the effects of invasive species, especially invasive plant species. The worst challenges are in the Spring Creek Canyon itself, but the adjacent lands also are threatened, and active management will be necessary. Our faculty see this as not only a research area for new management techniques but also as an educational venue. One of our professors has engaged his class in designing invasive-plant management programs for sensitive park areas in Maryland, and the opportunity to conduct this class within minutes of the University Park campus would allow even further engagement of students.

Open spaces on the property also offer tremendous opportunities for educational and research initiatives to meet pressing needs of Pennsylvanians. The orchard area has soil characteristics that make it a prime site for the restoration of American chestnut, a project in which Penn State has had an active role for decades and for which none of our other lands are well suited. That area of the property also has ecological characteristics that are similar to other barrens plant communities – another potential restoration goal through time.

Our wildlife students could learn land-management practices that enhance game and non-game animal populations in an ecologically complex habitat. Our Environmental Resource Management students would have the opportunity to design and implement best practices to better protect the environmental quality of the property, including the Canyon. Research and educational projects also would include students and faculty in watershed and fisheries management. This area would be an exceptional venue for the annual Pennsylvania Envirothon competition, which our College has hosted in past years. The mix of woodlands and open fields would provide a remarkable living laboratory for public educational programs, just as Penn State provides at Shaver’s Creek or Centre Region Parks and Recreation provides at Millbrook Marsh, where wetlands are protected through Penn State’s conservation easement with Clearwater Conservancy.

Finally, the juxtaposition of managed lands with the exceptional natural resources in the Spring Creek Canyon proper provides an extraordinary opportunity for demonstrating best practices to our students and to the public. We have a long-term stake in the preservation of this natural resource in the best possible condition, and our ownership of adjoining lands and implementation of state-of-the-art environmental and agricultural practices will serve to provide a buffer for the Canyon and to demonstrate how agriculture and environmental conservation can co-exist. Mixed land use is common throughout Pennsylvania, and science-based solutions to ensuring that we are able to provide food, fiber, and fuel to our citizens while maintaining our natural resources at the highest quality are imperative.  

The College has a long history of advancing science needed for sustainable management of land and water resources and protection and restoration of ecological services. This science underlies sound environmental-quality policies and regulations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Our science forms the basis of nutrient-management regulations in Pennsylvania and beyond. We have researched, promoted, and employed reduced tillage practices and cover-crop systems that help to reduce erosion and enhance the structural characteristics of the soil. We are looking at the function of restored habitats relative to their natural equivalents to create better restoration practices.  

Our interest in this property is long term. The types of research and educational programs that we envision will require substantial time to bring to fruition. For example, if we were to use a portion of the Rockview property for organic research and education, a minimum of three years is required for federal certification of organic status, and some experiments we might wish to initiate could require decades to complete. Reforestation and restoration will require decades to accomplish. Management of invasive species will be a perpetual task, as the very nature of the invasive process means the threat does not end.

The challenge of feeding, clothing, housing, and fueling a growing world population must be met. The College of Agricultural Sciences is charged to help address this challenge. Continued research is needed, but so, too, are our efforts in education to inform the next generation of citizens. The Rockview property can serve as a living laboratory to provide Pennsylvania and U.S agriculture with science-based, sustainable solutions to ensure we can meet this challenge now and in the future.