More than Scenic, Delaware Water Gap Serves as Defense Against Climate Change

‘Green groups’ extend recreation area with addition of three tracts of ‘highly resilient’ land

delaware water gap
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a resource enjoyed by millions annually for its spectacular vistas of steep cliffs, deep gorges, and rushing river. Now, a new analysis of the 70,000-acre park has concluded much of it can serve as a first-line defense against the expected loss of biodiversity from climate change.

More than half of the recreation area contains a wide variety of landforms and intact habitat blocks that will help sustain ecological function, thus enabling a range of plants and animals to find appropriate habitat locally — even as climate change impacts the region, according to a study by the Open Space Institute.

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To that end, the institute, the Trust for Public Land, the Conservation Fund, and other partners have extended the park through the acquisition 722 acres of “highly resilient’’ land, strengthening its role as a regional haven for wildlife and natural moderator of flooding and drought.

“Many people don’t realize that the Delaware Water Gap, in addition to being an amazing outdoors escape, is a linchpin landscape that will help protect the broader region as the climate changes,’’ said Peter Howell, executive vice president of the Open Space Institute. “Our analysis demonstrates the important role the park plays in facilitating adaption to climate change.’’

According to Superintendent John Donahue, “Preserving these highly resilient parcels of land is part of the park’s Climate Change Response plan, which states that we will collaborate with other agencies and institutions to employ the best-available climate science and we will take action to ensure the parks’ ability to recover from climate-related habitat damage.’’

Two of the three properties are located in Pennsylvania — Mosiers Knob near Shawnee and Milford Glen close to Milford Beac. The third is in New Jersey, the Rosenkrans site in Walpack, along the Delaware River. All three tracts contain land deemed “highly resilient’’ by the Open Space Institute, in part, because they include or are entirely composed of geologies that have been identified as underprotected.

Mosiers Knob is a 548-parcel, mostly forested area with rolling and steep topography, culminating in a 1,120-foot high point. Milford Glen spans 39 forested acres, bisected by the Sawkill Creek, classified as an exceptional value stream. The Rosenkrans tract is 3,600 feet of frontage on the Delaware River, a place of open fields, steep forested areas, and a 20-acres wetlands complex connected to the river. The property was purchased from the Rosenkrans family, which has owned the land since the late 1600s.

The national recreation area, as elsewhere, is beginning to feel the effects of climate change, such as unpredictable variations in temperature and precipitation, and more intense storms, which are disrupting natural communities and shifting species range.

“Permanent protection of resilient landscapes is an effective tool in mitigating the effects of climate change,’’ said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania state director for The Conservation Fund. He said the resiliency analysis ensures that the conservation investment is strategically directed to the most resilient properties.

Beyond its recreational value, the Delaware River provides drinking water for 15 million people in four states.