Citizen Science for Climate Resilience:
Creating a Climate Beacon by Mapping with Communities at Cove Mountain Preserve

Preston Welker, 2019 (updated Jan. 2022)

Cove Mountain Preserve located at the heart of the Kittatinny Ridge. Image © Matt Kane/TNC

“The Kittatinny Ridge: 185 Miles. 360,000 acres. 80% forest and shrub habitat. 7 important mammal areas. Global important bird area.”
–Kittatinny Ridge Coalition

As our climate warms, local ecosystems change, causing wildlife to migrate in search of suitable habitat. Recent research by The Nature Conservancy has identified Pennsylvania’s Kittatinny Ridge as a key connector between climate resilient lands. This 185 mile-long forested ridge provides a migration corridor that enables species to safely move between climate resilient habitat areas. While helping to sustain biodiversity, these forests also sequester carbon meaning that conserving the Kittatinny Ridge can help meet carbon-reduction goals.

However, the Kittatinny Coalition describes that only 40% of forests along the ridge are conserved and the remaining acres face pressures of logging and development. To generate awareness and support for conserving the Kittatinny Ridge, The Nature Conservancy collaborated with local communities through citizen science mapping to create the climate resilience beacon of Cove Mountain Preserve.

This map, created by Dan Majka, models the migration of mammals, birds, and amphibians in response to climate change. The white oval illustrates the key location of the Kittatinny Ridge. Map © Dan Majka/TNC (source). Adapted for print by Nicholas Rapp & Preston Welker.

Today, Cove Mountain Preserve provides a living classroom at the heart of the Kittatinny Ridge for people from all walks of life. Located just fifteen minutes from Pennsylvania’s capital, landowners, donors, students, and policymakers can learn about the greater climate resilience effort through interpretive signage and guided hikes. However, when purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 2017, the preserve had a number of conservation challenges. The original 350 acres were largely overgrown with the invasive plant “mile-a-minute” (Persicaria perfoliata) and contained a maze of logging roads that had been used for decades as informal trails by the neighboring community. In order to facilitate sustainable public access, these land management challenges required creative solutions.

The goal was to establish maintained trails that enhanced recreation opportunities, showcased the preserve’s four forest-types, and also allowed extensive habitat restoration efforts to progress undisturbed. To develop this management plan in a way that also delivered benefits to the community, The Nature Conservancy invited community members to participate in a citizen science mapping project.

Citizen science involves rigorous research conducted in collaboration with everyday people. Scientific studies have long shown that including local people and their knowledge in management planning helps increase conservation durability and system resilience. At Cove Mountain Preserve, The Nature Conservancy partnered with community volunteers. After learning how to use mapping applications on tablets, citizen scientists could navigate the field and translate their local knowledge into geospatial data.

A citizen scientist collects GPS photos and field notes. Image © Preston Welker/TNC

Citizen scientists mapped Cove Mountain’s maze of logging roads by producing GPS tracks as they hiked. Important management features were logged with GPS points, where conditions could be described with georeferenced digital photos and field notes. Volunteers successfully mapped locations of federally protected vernal pools, evidence of the threatened Allegheny Woodrat, unique geological formations, illegal dumping sites, and the range of non-native vegetation species.

All citizen science data were then combined into an interactive ArcGIS Online map. This tool enabled conservation planners at The Nature Conservancy to prioritize restoration efforts and design a network of trails the community felt ownership in, while showcasing resources and minimizing ecological impact.

Data collected by citizen scientists (pictured first) were used to create a more sustainable sysetem of educational trails (pictured second). Maps © Preston Welker/TNC

Over the next three months, volunteers and land stewards worked together to install interpretive signage and build nearly three miles of trails for guided hikes. To celebrate the opening of Cove Mountain Preserve, The Nature Conservancy brought the wider public together with the people who made the preserve possible. Citizen science volunteers, community members, partner organizations, generous donors, landowners, and policymakers forged new partnerships for the greater climate resilience effort while enjoying a local delicacy, paw-paw fruit harvested from Pennsylvania forests.

By taking a collaborative citizen science approach and leveraging technology, The Nature Conservancy secured one more piece in the puzzle of a network of resilient and connected landscapes. While a rapidly changing climate could be daunting, Cove Mountain Preserve serves as a beacon along the Kittatinny Ridge welcoming all to learn how conservation can help build climate resilience.

Are you interested in helping The Nature Conservancy tackle climate change and protect the oceans, lands, and freshwaters on which all life depends? There are a number of ways you can get involved:

    • Want to become a citizen scientist? Contact The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania’s volunteer coordinator ( to learn about opportunities.

    • Pennsylvania landowner interested in learning about conserving your land? Visit the Kittatinny Coalition for information on different options, ranging from fee purchase to conservation easements. You can contact The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania ( to start the conversation.  

    • For educators and university students: Contact The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania ( to organize a guided hike that details how the Cove Mountain fits into the greater climate resilience strategy. University students can also talk with your research advisor then contact the Pennsylvania office about possible research partnerships.

    • Become a member: Making reoccurring donations is the central way to make an impact by helping The Nature Conservancy conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. You can become a member here.

: Preston Welker 2022 : ︎ ︎ : Portland, OR :