Places We Protect

Cove Mountain Preserve

Pennsylvania

View of Cove Mountain from the east bank of the Susquehanna River. A large boulder is in the foreground. There are ripples on the surface of the water.
Cove Mountain Early morning view of Cove Mountain across the Susquehanna River. © Matt Kane/TNC

A 14-mile corridor protects land along the Kittatinny Ridge, one of Pennsylvania’s most treasured landscapes.

Overview

Description

In 2017, The Nature Conservancy purchased roughly 350 acres of Cove Mountain, representing TNC’s first nature preserve in central Pennsylvania along the Kittatinny Ridge. In February 2021, the PA/DE chapter closed on a land deal to expand Cove Mountain. The purchase of 1,200 acres of land adjacent to the existing preserve quadruples its size and—most importantly—fills a gap between existing conservation lands and creates a 14-mile stretch of protected land along the Kittatinny Ridge, one of the most important landscapes for climate adaptation in Pennsylvania and the Appalachians.

This once in a generation opportunity creates a model for landscape scale land protection and management in the Central Appalachians and will preserve habitat in one of the most important wildlife corridors in the northeastern United States.

Future Plans: Recreation and Sightseeing

Cove Mountain Preserve sits alongside the Susquehanna River, just opposite a scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The expanded preserve will provide new opportunities for hiking, hunting, birding and other activities, and will also protect the southern viewshed from Peters Mountain; a view that’s particularly popular with both local hikers and through hikers traveling along the Appalachian Trail.

TNC will now enter into an inclusive planning process for expanding recreational opportunities that will directly engage the local community to address issues like access points and infrastructure needs.

A separate plan will also be developed to determine management needs focused on conditions such as forest health, climate resilience and wildlife habitat. The property had been managed for timber production for the last 60 years and will undergo a comprehensive forest assessment.

In expanding Cove Mountain Preserve, TNC has helped to ensure this chain of forests will remain connected, healthy and more climate resilient into the future. It’s an incredible opportunity to simultaneously protect critical wildlife habitat, clean water for the Susquehanna River and an iconic Pennsylvania viewshed while expanding local recreation and tourism opportunities just outside of Harrisburg. This is all thanks to critical support TNC has received from our generous donors and partners like the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Perry County.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Daily, from dawn to dusk

Highlights

Raptors and songbirds

Size

1,411 acres

Explore our work in Pennsylvania

A hiking trail covered with autumn leaves beckons ahead into a forest of tall thin trees.
Cove Mountain Trail A series of restored former logging roads provide visitor access to Cove Mountain. Two miles of hiking trails lead to scenic views of the Susquehanna River. © Shawn Hickey/TNC
× A hiking trail covered with autumn leaves beckons ahead into a forest of tall thin trees.
A wooden trail kiosk with a narrow overhangs shades two large information areas showing trial maps and information about the preserve.
Cove Mountain Preserve Trail kiosk welcomes visitors to Cove Mountain Preserve. © TNC
× A wooden trail kiosk with a narrow overhangs shades two large information areas showing trial maps and information about the preserve.
Cove Mountain Trail A series of restored former logging roads provide visitor access to Cove Mountain. Two miles of hiking trails lead to scenic views of the Susquehanna River. © Shawn Hickey/TNC
Cove Mountain Preserve Trail kiosk welcomes visitors to Cove Mountain Preserve. © TNC

Access

Cove Mountain Preserve is open daily for public recreation via a series of restored former logging roads. Two miles of hiking trails lead to scenic views of the Susquehanna River, surrounding ridges and the historic Rockville Bridge—a railroad bridge built in 1902 and the longest of its kind in the world.

The property is also open to public hunting through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Public Access Cooperator Program.

What to See: Animals

Migratory birds use corridors like the Kittatinny Ridge as stopover habitat while they travel up and down the continent. The Ridge is used by tens of thousands of migrating raptors including hawks, eagles and falcons each fall.

In addition to raptors, other important species use the Kittatinny migration corridor, including ruby-throated hummingbirds and monarch butterflies.

Many mammal species native to the Kittatinny Ridge need wide ranges of intact forest to provide territory and habitat, including black bear, bobcat and fisher. Cove Mountain is also home to at least nine species of bats, as well as the Allegheny woodrat, which was once widespread throughout the region but is now listed as threatened by the state of Pennsylvania.

In addition to its location along the Kittatinny Ridge, Cove Mountain falls within the Susquehanna Water Gaps, one of 28 National Natural Landmarks in Pennsylvania recognized by the National Park Service, and is part of the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area, the Middle Susquehanna River Water Trail and the Susquehanna Birding and Wildlife Trail. It has also been identified as a conservation priority by the Perry County Greenway Plan.

Resources: Maps & Trail Guides

View of Cove Mountain from the east bank of the Susquehanna River. A large boulder is in the foreground. There are ripples on the surface of the water.
Cove Mountain Preserve
Creating a 14-mile corridor of protected lands along the Kittatinny Ridge, one of Pennsylvania's most treasured landscapes.

Cove Mountain Preserve A 14-mile corridor protects land along the Kittatinny Ridge, one of Pennsylvania’s most treasured landscapes.

Early morning view of Cove Mountain across the glassy, still Susquehannah River.
COVE MOUNTAIN Morning light shines on Cove Mountain during autumn. © Shawn Hickey

Indigenous History of the Kittatinny Ridge

The word Kittatinny comes from a corruption of the Leni Lenape Nation’s words Kit, meaning great or endless, and Atin, meaning mountain. English Captain John Smith encountered the "great mountain" when he explored the Susquehanna River from the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Kittatinny Ridge remained a boundary to European settlement until the late 1720s/early 1730s. The lands north and west of the Kittatinny Ridge were recognized as indigenous lands but were slowly lost to treaties and invasion by European settlers.

The Susquehannock Nation—interpreted as "people of the well-watered land"—lived in most of the drainage of the Susquehanna River, including along the Kittatinny Ridge. Although several tribes were present along the Susquehanna River over the course of Native American history, including Iroquois, Shawnee, Leni Lenape, Conoy, Nanticoke, Tuscarora and Tutelo, the Susquehannock were most likely present on Cove Mountain for an extended period of time.

Like the Iroquois, the Susquehannock lived in longhouses. They were a matrilineal society, meaning they traced descent through the mother’s lineage and men lived with their wives’ families. Around 1675 the Susquehannock ceased to exist as a nation. Smallpox and a long war with neighboring nations (primarily the Iroquois) over control of the beaver pelt trade in the region took its toll.

Running along the eastern shore of the Susquehanna past Cove Mountain was the Paxtang path, which connected the indigenous settlements of Shamokin to the north (modern-day Sunbury), Paxtang (modern-day Harrisburg), and Conestoga to the south. From viewpoints on Cove Mountain, you can see places where the Paxtang path would have followed the river.

Cove Mountain: Thank You The Cove Mountain expansion and protection of a 14-mile corridor along the Kittatinny Ridge is all thanks to the critical support we have received from our generous donors and partners. Thank you.

Cove Mountain Preserve: Expansion and Opportunity

Kittatinny Ridge

Running through Pennsylvania for 185 miles, the Kittatinny Ridge is the first prominent landscape feature visitors encounter when moving north or west from Philadelphia. It is one of the commonwealth’s most treasured landscapes.

The Kittatinny represents a vast corridor of connected natural habitats—an incredibly biodiverse superhighway for wildlife, including birds and raptors migrating along the Atlantic flyway. It has been identified by scientists as critical to the future of hundreds of animal and bird species amid a changing climate.

TNC is a lead partner in the Kittatinny Ridge Partnership, a coalition of NGOs, county, state and federal partners, local conservation groups, education partners and local recreation clubs and chapters. The coalition exists to combine resources, set collective goals and create a shared vision for a rugged and protected Kittatinny Ridge corridor for both people and nature. TNC’s primary role in the coalition is to protect priority parcels of land along the Ridge through direct acquisition and easements.

Perry County Economic Benefits

The Cove Mountain Preserve is located in Perry County, just a few miles up the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, PA. In this part of Pennsylvania, land protection plays a critical role in local economies that depend on outdoor recreation as a major draw for tourism revenue.

In fact, a 2019 report found that the county’s natural, open spaces provided more than $900 million in natural system services, property value benefits and outdoor recreation opportunities—an important, growing industry in Perry County. The same 2019 report found that outdoor recreation brought in nearly $60 million annually in tourist dollars, and that demand was outpacing the ability of local businesses to meet it.

Colorful lines show the migration routes of mammals, birds and amphibians across the United States, represented as a large black land mass.
Migration Routes An interactive migration map shows mammal paths in pink, birds in blue, and amphibians in yellow. © Dan Majka/The Nature Conservancy (adapted for print by Nicholas Rapp)
× Colorful lines show the migration routes of mammals, birds and amphibians across the United States, represented as a large black land mass.
A black and yellow butterfly spreads its wings while resting on a green leaf.
Eastern Tiger Butterfly An eastern tiger butterfly at the Cove Mountain Preserve © Shawn Hickey/The Nature Conservancy
× A black and yellow butterfly spreads its wings while resting on a green leaf.
Migration Routes An interactive migration map shows mammal paths in pink, birds in blue, and amphibians in yellow. © Dan Majka/The Nature Conservancy (adapted for print by Nicholas Rapp)
Eastern Tiger Butterfly An eastern tiger butterfly at the Cove Mountain Preserve © Shawn Hickey/The Nature Conservancy

Resilient and Connected Landscapes

Founded in the early 1950s as a private land trust focused on protecting ecologically significant areas, TNC has been in the land protection business for more than 60 years. Today, science guides our land protection efforts so that we have an outsized impact, protecting entire ecosystems that are critical to the health and wellbeing of people and nature.

TNC’s Resilient and Connected Landscapes project is the first study to comprehensively map resilient lands and significant climate corridors across North America. Released in October 2016, the study took eight years to complete, involved 60 scientists, and developed innovative new techniques for mapping climate-driven species migrations.

The study now drives conservation strategies at both TNC and with myriad partners who are working to conserve lands and waters at a continental scale. The forested Appalachian mountain range, stretching from Alabama to Quebec, has been identified by TNC as a priority landscape for land protection and restoration, and the Kittatinny Ridge is a crucial link in the chain.

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