North Branch Land Trust is named after the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. Of course, we’re also a conservation partner in the Upper Lehigh River watershed, including the beautiful Bear Creek, which empties into the mighty Delaware River. These rivers are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of “our local waters”. But NEPA contains an enormous diversity of freshwater resources – and many of us know and love them best through outdoor recreation! Water recreation activities are available throughout NEPA including fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming and even scuba diving (PA DCNR).
Fishing and boating are popular along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, providing trout, catfish, bluegill and more. This current season has had mixed success in our region, with high and fast waters due to frequent rains limiting fish activity in some areas of the Susquehanna, while global warming has caused a boom in some lakes and tributaries. (PA Fish and Boat Commission).
These waters also offer excellent kayaking and canoeing opportunities with a boat registration or boat launch license. In fact, the Susquehanna River is a waterway from the New York border near Sayre to the Pennsylvania-Maryland border in Chester County with over 400 miles to explore. North Branch Land Trust’s Howland Preserve is just one of more than 50 public NEPA (Pennsylvania Water Trail) launch sites.
If the Susquehanna isn’t quite your speed, there are also calm, publicly accessible lakes in places like Frances Slocum State Park. Meanwhile, whitewater rapids like those at Lehigh Gorge State Park can satisfy your taste for adventure. When you’re ready to swim, check out designated swimming areas like Ricketts Glen’s 600-foot sandy beach and Hickory Run’s Sand Spring Lake. You can even scuba dive in Lake Lackawanna at Lackawanna National Park.
All parks and water bodies have their own regulations for visitor and habitat safety. Be sure to check dcnr.pa.gov, fishandboat.com, or individual park websites when planning your adventure.
But the passion for our local waters shouldn’t be limited by the fun we can have. Many NEPA waters and wetlands are not only sensitive resources, but also provide much for our own health and safety. While large rivers and lakes are great for recreation, they and their smaller tributaries also provide drinking water to local communities, provide habitat for aquatic species, and mitigate stormwater impacts while protecting us from the weather. extremes.
Some of our local reservoirs are man-made, such as the Francis E. Walter Dam. Others are forces of nature like the ancient Harveys Lake formed by a glacier. But they each serve an important purpose. These waterways, large and small, are home to amazing riparian habitats. These natural areas along tributaries, lakes, and reservoirs are not only teeming with flora and fauna (which can make for a great hike), but they also help prevent flooding and soil erosion. Additionally, many of these plants act as natural filters, helping to prevent runoff and pollution from entering our waters in the first place.
The rest of our local waters exist at the boundary between aquatic and terrestrial waters. Wetlands, including marshes and swamps, are the unsung champions of NEPA’s watershed. The combination of vegetation and hydrology means that these areas can retain water, even in times of drought. NBLT’s Valmont Bog Sanctuary in Hazle Township contains Magellanic peat, which acts like a sponge to gather and release water as needed.
And at the smaller end of the wetland spectrum, vernal pools hold a special place at the heart of the NBLT. These miniature marshes are ephemeral, that is, they only exist for a few weeks in the spring. Here at NEPA, these pools could be the only nursery for amphibians and invertebrates for miles around. Because these pools are temporary, tadpoles and insects need not fear predatory fish, and fun flora like highbush blueberries, waterworts and rushes can thrive (Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program).
Even though there is so much diversity in the waters of NEPA, everything is connected, literally! These same waterways that can carry a kayaker from New York to Maryland are fed by all the streams that connect our lakes, streams, and reservoirs, as well as all the snow, rain, and sleet that falls on Pennsylvania. A raindrop that falls on Elk Mountain in Herrick Township, NEPA’s highest point at 2,693 feet, will travel over 255 miles to the ocean, passing Tunkhannock, Pittston, Bloomsburg, Danville, Harrisburg and parts of Maryland before reaching the Chesapeake Bay and then the ocean (River Runner). More dangerously, this means that fertilizers and chemical waste on or in the ground can be picked up by water traveling downstream through tributaries, potentially contaminating our waters and oceans.
By being aware of the impact our actions have on local waters and preserving wetlands and riparian habitats, we can reduce the amount of pollution in our local waterways, the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay and possibly the Atlantic Ocean! The Susquehanna and Upper Lehigh watersheds are perhaps NEPA’s most important natural resources for clean water, clean air, healthy aquatic habitats, beautiful views, and mindful recreation. Remembering how everything is connected can help us protect it.
So what can you do to help keep our watersheds healthy? Individuals can follow these steps:
- Keep trash out of the ground, as it will eventually end up in the water.
- Ensure proper disposal of household hazardous waste such as detergents, oils and paint.
- Be sure to “leave no trace” in and around the water so that we can all continue to enjoy the beautiful waters of NEPA for generations to come.
Next time North Branch Land Trust will look at the diversity of flora and fauna that inhabit a healthy watershed in NEPA, what they are doing to conserve water resources and what we can do to help them!