Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) Director Dan Kunkle announced that the Nature Center is instituting a prescribed fire on its refuge. A one-day prescribed fire was orinally planned for April 13, but has been moved back one day due to weather. The timing is highly weather, wind and moisture dependent and the burn may need to be delayed further if conditions for the fire are not acceptable. The possible time range for the test burn is from April 13 to April 27. The fire will encompass a 10-acre section of the grassland and be visible from Palmerton and from Route 248, just above the old Lehigh and New England Railroad bed.
The prescribed burn has been moved back to Sunday April 14th. Please know that the LNE, Priairie Grass, Charcoal, and Bobolink Trails will be closed on Sunday. the blue-blazed North Trail will also be closed. No one will be allowed in the area of the fire.
Lehigh Gap Nature Center is located on part of the Palmerton Superfund site which was contaminated with heavy metal. After half a century of barren mountainsides, the Nature Center brought vegetation back to the Blue Mountain-Kittatinny Ridge near Palmerton by planting prairie grasses on the site. These prairie grasses do not take up the heavy metals and keep them safely in place underground.
To effectively manage the prairie grasses Lehigh Gap Nature Center in cooperation with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be testing prescribed fire as a management tool. The goal of the fire is to prevent growth of woody trees and shrubs, which take up and mobilize the heavy metals that are currently safely entrenched in the soil.
A professional forestry and fire services company, Silvix LLC, is the contractor who will conduct the prescribed burn. In addition, specialists from the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources (PA DCNR) fire division will be on site as well as volunteers from local fire departments including East Penn Township, Bowmanstown, and Palmerton to ensure the fire does not escape its boundary area. They will also extinguish the fire completely after the burn. The fire will only be conducted when westerly winds are blowing to ensure that the fire cannot spread toward houses several miles to the west in East Penn Township.
Kunkle said, “We want to make sure residents of the area know that this is being done very carefully by professionals who are among the most experienced in Pennsylvania in conducting prescribed burns. Fire is an excellent ecological tool when used carefully and timed correctly.”
Monitoring equipment will be setup by EPA, Cornell University, and the U.S. Forest Service to measure the smoke for toxicity and its travel range. In addition, researchers from Moravian College and Cornell University will be on site during and after the fire to study its effectiveness in meeting the management objectives.
“We appreciate the Lehigh Gap Nature Center’s efforts using native grasses to re-vegatate Blue Mountain as a part of the clean up remedy at the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site,” said EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “EPA will be present during the prescribed burn to see if this is an effective way of managing these valuable native grasses over the long-term.”
Trails at Lehigh Gap Nature Center will be closed to the public on the day of the fire.
The Lehigh Gap Nature Center is a member supported, conservation organization with its office located at the Osprey House in Lehigh Gap. It is the only environmental education center in the nation that was developed on a Superfund site. For more information about the Center or the test fire, contact them at 610-760-8889, firstname.lastname@example.org.