Every year, water trail managers from around the state gather together to share their successes and learn about new opportunities at the Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership’s annual meeting.
Held at Camp Lackawanna, the meeting took place on on Sept. 11 on the banks of the North Branch of the Susquehanna in Wyoming County. Located where the river creates a natural omega with its channel called the Vosburg Neck, Camp Lackawanna is adjacent to the North Branch Land Trust’s Howland Preserve, creating almost 1,000 acres of open space on the river. It was an ideal location for the meeting, although the weather didn’t cooperate for our planned social paddle the day before.
The Tidal Delaware Water Trail
The Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership is a collection of some 27 water trails throughout the Commonwealth, covering 2,172 miles of navigable waterways. The goals of the program are to promote recreation and stewardship of the rivers and creeks, so they will once again be a vital part of the communities and regions they flow through.
Meetings such as this derive much of their value from the diversity of people who attend and the networking that occurs. All the major watersheds in the state were represented, and the scale of the trails ranged from the Tidal Delaware in the greater Philadelphia region to the very rural Pine Creek.
The managers from were joined by local trail community representatives, as well as staff from the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry, and Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. The various backgrounds led to different solutions to seemingly similar needs, which sparked discussion and probably more than one light bulb moment for many involved.
The first presentation of the day was by Carly Dean of the Chesapeake Conservancy. Based in Annapolis, Md., the Conservancy is leading a project that is filming the entire length of the Susquehanna from New York down to the bay, including both the North and West Branch.
Similar to Google Streetview, the project is led by a company called Terrain 360 from Richmond, Va., which has already completed a similar exercise for the James River. The crew recently finished its trip, so Carly was interested in hearing from the group how exactly they might see using this information to promote the river. A lively discussion ensued and sparked a lot of thoughts about how a virtual tour might be useful for engaging new users and communities. Many thanks to the Endless Mountains Heritage Region for getting things set up at Camp Lackawanna and providing food both Thursday and Friday.
The Schuylkill River
After lunch, the group was given an overview of the new guide that the Schuylkill River Heritage Area is developing. This project is being led by Brian Swisher, one of the key volunteers for the water trail. His approach to the guide was quite comprehensive, reviewing what he and his cohorts had identified as their favorite guides from around the country, creating a database of all the information they wanted to include, and then considering how it is that paddlers actually use maps.
This was all before he started redrawing all the river islands and making other changes to the existing map work. Although some of the details were very specific to the Schuylkill, the thought process and the decisions on how to represent things gave people plenty of food for thought to take back to their projects.
Jackie Kramer from the National Park Services Chesapeake office introduced the new “Find your Chesapeake” website and visitor engagement project. The program is an outgrowth of one of President Obama’s first executive orders to bring attention to the entire watershed of the Chesapeake Bay.
The website will become a clearinghouse of events and projects throughout the watershed and offers a multitude of ways for people to become engaged. Jackie also highlighted a program designed to encourage people to explore parks. Every fourth grader in America (and their parents or guardians) can receive a free pass to visit national parks and other public sites with admission fees for a full year.
The final presentation of the day was by Jim Hyland, a DCNR Recreational Forester who manages the Pine Creek Water Trail in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. This beautiful trail has to manage large numbers of users in a very rural setting. He covered the design considerations that come into play with heavily-used access areas that retain a “natural” character, turning what he termed “otter slides” on the stream banks into stable ramps.
He also had some great suggestions for signage in terms of durability and vandal-proofing installations (he claimed it was possible).
The group wrapped up the day considering what the Water Trails Program might look like in a few years time and how to get there. This was the start of a larger, long-term consideration, but the group identified several things that will need to be considered for the program to remain relevant.
It is the time invested in meetings and conversations by engaged individuals like these that keeps Pennsylvania a national leader in not just water trails but outdoor recreation.