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Who bought one of PA's biggest private forests?

Rumors that Taylor Swift was the buyer reached as far away as Pittsburgh.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

June 28, 2024

Inside this edition: Little Round Top reopens, inside the Otherworld, run club, 'Cenrtal Philadelphia,' and a notable forest sale.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Which of these is the smallest state park in Pennsylvania?
A. Sand Bridge State Park 
B. Moraine State Park
C. Ohiopyle State Park
D. Cook Forest State Park
(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
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Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» One update worth sharing: The Little Round Top battle site at Gettysburg has reopened after nearly two years of rehab work, per Evening Sun. Two historic battlefield houses are also for rent.
» One trip worth taking: For western Pennsylvanians: @janepitt reports on the "magical hands-on immersive universe" of Otherworld in Columbus, Ohio. For eastern Pennsylvanians, there's one in Philly.

» One thing worth reading: In a piece for Narratively (paywall), Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Jason Nark goes searching for author Norman Maclean and finds a literary muse much closer to home.

» One group worth cheering: Members of a Philadelphia runners group for people in substance abuse recovery tell The Inquirer (paywall) it starts with small steps and that “the hardest part is just showing up.”

» One clip worth watching: A daring and at times clumsy rescue of one groundhog by another in Greene County, via Redditor u/dalex89.

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The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Education a budget sticking point as clock ticks
» Power grid concerns complicate green energy talks
» Opioid cash denied for Kensington support
» Banks cry foul over proposed PA credit card rule
» Skill games budget talks aren't going well
» Spotlight PA to launch Berks County bureau
Historic North Fork Lodge in St. Marys, Elk County. (Photo via Whitetail Properties)

One of Pennsylvania’s largest privately owned forests has a new owner.

The 7,000-acre North Fork Lodge property in St. Marys, Elk County — larger than most state parks — has been sold by Under Armour co-founder Kip Fulks to another businessperson with Maryland ties. 

Shawn Pyle, president and CEO of the Churchville, Maryland-based DXI Construction, formerly Dixie Construction, confirmed to PA Local this week that he’s the $13 million buyer. 

Weeks of speculation about the sale included rumors of a pending purchase by Taylor Swift (a homecoming of sorts) that reached as far south as Pittsburgh, nearly three hours away. 

Pyle didn’t broadcast the acquisition. The property was bought under an LLC — not unusual for real estate purchases of this size — that listed the same address as his construction firm. 

PA Local obtained a copy of the articles of incorporation for the LLC and called the executor, a DXI employee. Several hours later, Pyle rang to confirm the property was now his. 

The parcel is nothing short of massive. High atop the Allegheny Plateau, it boasts a rustic 1920s hunting lodge, a kitchen house with commercial kitchen, space to sleep 50 people, a ski chalet and slope (the lift installed by early owners at the Stackpole corporation is no longer operational), a trap and skeet range, trout streams, endless woods, and lots of wildlife. 

Jack Brown, the broker on this deal, told PA Local it’s one of the most spectacular properties he’s seen.

Former owner Kip Fulks called it “love at first sight” in a 2017 interview with the Wall Street Journal, adding, “You just don’t get pieces [of land] like that on the East Coast anymore.” 

In this 9-minute promotional video with extensive aerial views, Fulks cited his Alaska outfitting business and his family’s travel schedules as reasons to sell.

Pyle was at North Fork exploring with his son and grandson on Wednesday, a day after the deed was recorded. 

So what does he plan to do with it? 

The Somerset County native and York County resident told PA Local that his approach largely mirrors Fulks’.

“I’m just gonna keep it for family and friends,” Pyle said. “We’re gonna keep it as is. It’s basically 99% forest. We got lost up here today on the trails.”  

Pyle said he plans to maintain North Fork’s “nostalgic” buildings. “They remind me of my childhood in Somerset,” he explained.

The property also has a long history of logging and more recently Marcellus Shale exploration — Fulks’ video testimonial mentions both in a section titled “natural income.” 

Asked if he had any plans to allow more harvesting of resources like timber as the owner, Pyle said: “I don’t need the money to timber it … I like it the way it is.”

Pyle joined DXI in 1994 as a foreman and took over in 2017, according to the company’s website. DXI has 400 employees, a large mid-Atlantic footprint, and a project list spanning everything from roads and runways to Amazon distribution centers. 

Pyle said his current hunting camp in Clearfield County (540 acres in size and now on the market) was typically used once a month or twice a month in-season. He expects to use North Fork at least as often.

He also plans to employ the same property caretaker as Fulks, a man Pyle said has been there for several owners and whose parents worked at the lodge in the 1950s.

In 2018, Jim Finley, a retired Penn State University forestry professor and Elk County landowner, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Forestry was once interested in purchasing North Fork Lodge, but the cost was too high.

Another massive tract of Elk County land, totaling 32,598 acres near Johnsonburg, was purchased by a conservation group in 2018 in what the Inquirer said was possibly "the single largest conservation acquisition by a nonprofit in Pennsylvania history."

Pyle had been looking for a piece of property in the area for some time. 

“I got lucky,” he said while roaming North Fork this week.

Colin Deppen, newsletter editor

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.
"Cenrtal Philadelphia."
A highway sign typo along I-95 in Philly; PennDOT apologized and posted a photo of the correction, but the error has already been immortalized
Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Boulder Field, Hickory Run State Park, Carbon County, via Karen A. Have a Pennsylvania photo of your own to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A field of boulders surrounded by trees.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The answer is "A. Sand Bridge State Park" in Union County.

At three acres, it's the smallest state park, according to the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation. By comparison, Pymatuning State Park — one of the largest — covers roughly 17,000 acres in Crawford County.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.
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