Plans in works for Morosini Reserve between Murrysville, Salem
As its members mark its 25th anniversary, the Westmoreland Conservancy is making plans for the largest piece of land added yet to its preservation program.
More than 180 acres along Route 66, spanning Murrysville and Salem, will become the Morosini Reserve, named for Bill and Doris Morosini, whose family farmed the property for nearly a century.
“The family started acquiring property around 1918,” said conservancy Treasurer Shelly Tichy. “But the land has been farmed for more than 200 years.”
The homestead on the farm is roughly two centuries old — though it is not part of the land acquired by the conservancy — and was built with bricks fired on the property. Tichy said it is the third home to be built on the land.
“The second home is partially there, but it’s mostly in ruins, and we haven’t even begun looking for the site of the original homestead,” she said.
Where most of the conservancy’s other properties are heavily wooded with more rugged terrain, the property Doris Morosini left to the conservancy in her will is characterized by gently sloping hills and is 75 percent farmland, with some wooded areas and a small marsh.
“This acquisition sort of takes us in a whole new direction,” Tichy said. “We’re allowing some smaller-scale farming for a couple of years while we get our total management plan in place.”
Tichy said the land lends itself to a variety of habitats. Among the development options conservancy officials are exploring are a handicapped-accessible nature trail, a section bordered by old rail lines that could become a spur of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, and the conversion of former farmland into grass prairies.
Nature eventually will reclaim much of the property, but it is a slow process, Tichy said.
“I live across from the (McGinnis Reserve) property, which was acquired in 2000,” she said. “I’ve lived there since 1992, when it was still basically a meadow, and much of it still is.”
In addition to grass and shrubs, poplar trees are usually the first large growth to take root, within about five years. Tichy said the open fields likely will return to grassy areas within two or three growing seasons.
The property will be posted to prohibit hunting and the use of recreational vehicles, an issue Tichy said crops up at other conservancy properties.
There is a pre-existing drilling agreement for the property, but conservancy officials opted to move ahead with preservation with the understanding that they could request a tree line to screen any drilling operations from the rest of the reserve.
A celebration of the acquisition is in the works for the spring, but the first event on the property, a late-January “owl prowl,” has already taken place. Tichy said that while participants did not spot any owls, the event was a great introduction to the land.
“When a (fire) siren went off, it ended up being joined by several coyotes,” she said. “And with the moonlight on the snow, we didn’t even need flashlights. The property is just gorgeous.”
Patrick Varine is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].