PEC Partners with Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania to Conduct Cleanup Efforts

PEC welcomes Lynn Conrad, Executive Director of the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania, as the second author in its guest blog series.

It’s the beginning of March, the time of year when the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania decides where to conduct our annual spring trail cleanup. After over 25 years of trash pickups, luckily there are not many more choices!

The Rail-Trail Council is a non-profit rail-trail group that owns an old railbed in Northeast Pennsylvania, a railbed that is being developed into a recreational trail. Built in 1870 to carry coal out of the Lackawanna Valley, the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Rail Trail is a 38-mile railbed along the eastern border of Susquehanna County. The D&H was well-known for its steep grade, requiring extraordinary engine power to push and pull heavy loads over its high-point.

Lynn Conrad 2
Lynn Conrad, Executive Director, Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

So when coal mining, usage, and transport died down, so did trains on the D&H, and another railroad took over with a much more reasonable grade. By 1982 most of the D&H track was removed and the Rail-Trail Council was able to purchase an intact railbed in 1995.

After we purchased the D&H, the first order of business was to start clearing up all of its trash. For more than 10 years it was a lonely rural dirt path, easily accessible by trucks and ATV’s and became the dumping ground for tires, old appliances, car parts, and household garbage.

There are over 20 rural road intersections within the railbed and most of the trash volume was located just beyond the intersection and typically over a bank. Too often, a streambed or wetland was the unknowing receptacle. Was it a mindset back in the 1960’s and 70’s that steep banks were there for dumping? Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

But thanks to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s (PEC) Community Illegal Dumpsite Cleanup Program, we have been able to tackle the large illegal dumpsites along the trail, sites that have been present for over 50 years and continuing to grow.

Not only were we able to get dumpsters, but with the help of PEC Program Coordinator Palmira Miller, we were able to find community volunteers with large equipment to assist in the pickup of large items.

A high bank traversed by a low-use road was located off the D&H Rail-Trail in Clifford Township. Over an acre of bank with mature oak trees was littered with tons of tires, buckets, car parts, and shiny-unknown-objects. This was a site I never dreamed we’d be able to tackle, let alone in one day. PEC placed community cleanup signs noting illegal dumping fines along the road bank and now it’s free of trash just three years later.

“Friends of the Starrucca Creek,” a large family and friends Facebook group, has also achieved local success through its cleanup initiatives in the region. The group has become the stewards of the northern section of the D&H Rail-Trail with its efforts to clean up the trail along with the adjacent streams and roadways. Founder Dana Rockwell received a PEC Environmental Partnership Award last fall for his volunteer efforts to clean up the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania.

The awards dinner is a night we look forward to every year and is an event we are proud to sponsor. It’s the one time of year we get to see all our environmentally-conscious friends and meet new faces with inspirational stories.

Our trail is looking pretty good for this spring, and we thank our many dedicated volunteers for helping to help keep illegal dumping under control!

Click here to read PEC’s first guest blog on clean water efforts, written by Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania Executive Director of  the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.