Pennsylvania Legacies #194: Endless Possibilities

In 2023 the North Branch Susquehanna became a six-time winner of the vote for Pennsylvania River of the Year, a record unmatched by any other waterway in the state.

The designation comes at a special time for the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR), the nonprofit that manages the North Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, EMHR organized a week-long River of the Year Sojourn in June.

Cain Chamberlin is Executive Director of EMHR, one of twelve state-designated heritage areas  administered by DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. Each area is independently established and managed by groups like Endless Mountains, which work to enhance a region’s ‘sense of place’ and strengthen regional economies — work that extends far beyond the riverbanks.

“For us, it’s very much engaging the public, not only in the outdoors, but making sure that they know about the area they are in, whether it be its history, its ecology, its culture, all those different things,” Chamberlin said. 

He described the North Branch Susquehanna River as the “crown jewel” of the Endless Mountains — the perfect location for a sojourn. For 120 miles, dozens of organizers and participants paddled their way through rolling meadows and the area’s namesake mountains, spotting raptors and smallmouth bass, passing historic settlements and active farmland. People came from as far away as Oregon to participate, as well as Michigan, New York and across Pennsylvania. 

The sojourn also featured guest speakers, such as DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn, and representatives from fellow heritage areas who spoke about the importance of waterway conservation and how people could get involved. The goal, as with other Pennsylvania River Sojourns, is to foster a sense of stewardship among new and experienced paddlers. 

Smoke from Canadian wildfires cast an eerie haze over part of the expedition, but Chamberlin said it didn’t dampen the group’s enthusiasm.

“We gave everyone the option at lunchtime — you know, if you wanted to quit, if the smoke’s getting too heavy for you — we can shuttle everyone back to camp and start the next day fresh. But they wanted to muscle right through it. Everyone was just so eager to paddle on the river and do the whole full 120 [miles],” Chamberlin said. “I mean, we just could not have asked for a better group.”

Chamberlin envisions the Endless Mountains as a premier outdoor destination — not just for paddlers, but for an international cadre of gravel bikers, along with hikers, anglers, and bird watchers. For the last two-and-a-half years, his group has worked with local tourism bureaus to create an approximately 415-mile bikepacking loop through the heritage area’s four counties. The trail has brought big races, like the Tour de Shunk in Sullivan and Bradford counties, as well as the international cycling event, Grinduro, which took place last weekend. 

“It was amazing to see us, little Sullivan County, PA, among all of these really exotic cycling destinations like Italy, France, California, just, Germany, Australia, I mean, just so many great places that they go. And here they came to our little rural neck of the woods in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Chamberlin said. 

All that activity has the potential to drive economic development in nearby communities. To that end, Endless Mountains is working with local leaders and businesses to promote the tourism industry. One initiative is the Endless Mountains Bicycle-Friendly Business program, a directory of businesses in the heritage area that provide amenities to visiting cyclists. Chamberlin hopes the program can both improve visitors’ experiences and boost local economies. 

“When a hiker, a cyclist, a paddler, or just a history buff coming to visit a local museum or historical society, they come into your area, they’re there to spend money,” he said. “They’re there to not only utilize your assets, but they want to support those local towns and those local businesses.”

He added, “We just want to round everyone up, make sure we’re all on the same page, and we’re all pushing for a better place to live and to visit,” he said.


Endless Mountain Heritage Region events page

2023 PA River Sojourns

Endless Mountains Outdoor Heritage Expo

Josh Raulerson (0:00)
It’s Friday, June 23rd, 2023. I’m Josh Raulerson, and this is Pennsylvania Legacies, the podcast from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Well, if you caught our last episode, you know this year’s Pennsylvania River of the Year is the North Branch Susquehanna. It’s actually the sixth time the river has received that designation, more than any other waterway in the state. That alone makes 2023 a big year for the Endless Mountains Heritage Region, which sponsored the North Branch’s successful bid for River of the Year. It also happens to be that organization’s 25th anniversary. They decided to celebrate this summer with an epic paddle: a week-long river sojourn on the Susquehanna earlier this month, 120 miles along the North Branch water Trail, managed by Endless Mountains. Dozens turned out for the sojourn, and as we’ll hear in a moment, even a wall of wildfire smoke drifting down from Canada wasn’t enough to snuff out the spirit of adventure that those participants brought. For many paddlers, River Sojourns are a point of entry, not just to the sport, but to sustained involvement in local watershed conservation activities. In EMHR’s case, sojourns create a recruiting pool for their very active, volunteer-driven river cleanup program. But of course, there is more to the upper Susquehanna Valley than just paddling. The Endless Mountains area is also becoming a major cycling destination as interest in gravel riding grows nationwide and around the world. That’s on top of the region’s many hunting, fishing, and birding opportunities, as well as sites of historic interest. All these features generate a lot of economic activity, and Heritage Region staff are working hard to ensure that communities are getting the full benefit and that the outdoor recreation boom is happening in a way that sustains and enhances environmental health. Cain Chamberlin is executive director of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region. I caught up with him just after he finished the 2023 River of the Year sojourned to learn more about what they’ve been up to. Here’s our conversation.

Cain Chamberlin, welcome to Pennsylvania Legacy, really glad to have you here.

Cain Chamberlin (2:11)

No, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I was glad you guys reached out.

Josh Raulerson (2:14)

So very big year for Endless Mountains. Among other things, your 25th anniversary, I understand, and obviously River of the Year. We’ll talk about all those things. But first, just a little primer maybe about the Heritage Region, its history, its mission, the kind of things that you guys do.

Cain Chamberlin (2:29)

Yeah, so we were established in 1998 as one of the 12 heritage areas across the Commonwealth. So our parent agency is the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which I know PEC works with quite often as well. We really love to promote the four counties that we cover, which is Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming up here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We’re quite a rural region, but we like it that way because we have all the great outdoor recreation sites as well as a lot of great historic sites as well. We’re pretty much committed to outdoor recreation development, historic preservation, and we also manage the Upper North Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail.

Josh Raulerson (3:10)

Could you talk a little bit about the, the Heritage Region model and how that’s similar to or different from something like a Conservation Landscapes program, which also is, you know, a DCNR thing?

Cain Chamberlin (3:18)

So heritage areas, obviously, we really do focus on a lot of the culture and history, not just that outdoor recreation aspect. We also still focus on a lot of the same conservation efforts. But, you know, it’s, for us, it’s very much engaging the public, not only in the outdoors, but making sure that they know about the area they are in, whether it be its history, its ecology, its culture, all those different things. So we’re a very multifaceted-type group. Each heritage area kind of has its own theme. You know, whether you’re talking about the anthracite coal region, or Rivers of Steel down in Pittsburgh, or the Route Six Alliance, which, you know, obviously bypasses our region through Wyoming and Bradford County because of the Route Six Corridor. Our theme up in the Endless Mountains, because of our, uh, rural heritage as well as our agricultural, is agriculture. We’ve had a long background in farming in our region. And it’s one of those things that we still try to keep alive, despite the fact that a lot of farming operations have dwindled over the years. It’s still something we’d like to preserve and let people know about in terms of our culture.

Josh Raulerson (4:31)

So the kind of the, the crown jewel of the Endless Mountains is the North Branch Susquehanna River, which is also the 2023 Pennsylvania River of the Year. Tell us a bit about the river. What makes it special and how does the designation reflect that?

Cain Chamberlin (4:45)

Oh, well, it’s an incredible, uh, natural resources we have running through our region. The Endless Mountains Heritage region also administers the 444 Club, and that recognizes anyone who has paddled the entire main stem of the Susquehanna River from Cooperstown, New York to Javier Grace, Maryland at the Chesapeake Bay. And, you know, here in our region, not only is it just a magnificent natural resource, it’s a great place to recreate, and it’s a great place to learn about our history. There’s so many historic sites along the water trail, settlements, our historic downtowns. You know, it’s really just kind of the pinnacle of our industry as well. We’ve had so much industrialization along the river over the decades, uh, so it’s really just always kind of been the lifeblood of our region and so many other regions that it flows through. We nominated the North Branch as the River of the Year because it was, we wanted it to be in conjunction with our 25th anniversary. We thought it’d be great to have those two milestones linked with one another. And it worked out perfectly. The public came out and voted just way more than we even expected. Out of the four finalists that were on the list, we received 35% of the vote which was a little over 4,100 votes out of the total 11,500 ballots cast.

Josh Raulerson (6:08)

So that vote cements your status as River of the Year and the main thing that comes with that, maybe not the main thing, but a major thing, and I think especially a big deal in your case, was the River of the Year Sojourn, which you’re fresh off of. Can you tell me a little about what you guys did for that? I understand it was a real, it was an epic journey.

Cain Chamberlin (6:27)

It went amazingly well. We had total of 60 registrants throughout the week. So we offered single day, three day and full week packages. And we had, yeah, 60 people sign up.We had just under 30 finish the entire 120 mile stretch from Sayre to Shickshinny, which was done over the course of eight days. Our water trail managers were exceptionally pleased. We had spent a year planning this even before we nominated our water trail as River of the Year. So it was just a lot of team effort that just paid off extraordinarily. We had folks from Oregon, Michigan, Maryland, New York, all across Pennsylvania. So I mean, we were able to introduce a lot of experienced paddlers to the Susquehanna for the first time. By the end of the week it was just amazing cause so many people were asking us to send out everyone’s contact info so they could all keep in touch and do their own paddles together. A lot of great friendships formed. We had guest speakers along the whole way and they were all interested in reaching out to them as well to get more information or how they could get involved at the grassroots level. Because we had folks from Fish and Boat Commission. Uh, we had folks from DCNR, obviously. We had a lot of our fellow heritage areas, like Lackawanna Heritage Valley spoke. So we just had a really great lineup. Dr. Nathan Regner, our new State Director of Outdoor Recreation joined us for a day on the river, along with Secretary Cindy Dunn, who was just reconfirmed as Secretary for the DCNR. So there was a lot of great folks who came out on the river. Everyone was just so eager to interact with them and learn more about how they could get involved.

It just could not have gone any better. We only had one day of rain, and that was when we went through the Nanticoke Rapids. So everyone was soaking wet anyway, so it didn’t bother them at all. And obviously we had the crazy unexpected, uh, hazy day due to all the smoke and wildfires that were coming down from Canada. But, you know, we gave everyone the option at lunchtime, you know, if you wanted to quit, if the smoke’s getting too heavy for you, we can shuttle everyone back to camp and start the next day fresh. But they wanted to muscle right through it. Everyone was just so eager to paddle on the river and do the whole full 120. So it was, it was great. I mean, we just could not have asked for a better group.

Josh Raulerson (8:58)

One twenty is incredible. I mean, I know some, these are often multi-day trips. I’ve done a couple that were just sort of, you know, just one and done. How unusual is it to do a sojourn on this scale? Were you, I mean, I understood you had people sort of like tagging in and out, or was it the same group continuously the whole time?

Cain Chamberlin (9:15)

Well, a lot of them were the same, but like I said, yeah, we had those folks who join us for a day or just a few days. At the beginning of the week, uh, we had our, our most popular day on the river was I think 48 paddlers and then including our guides we were up to pretty much close to 60. So, you know, that was a pretty epic day on the river. The weather, like I said, was just gorgeous. It was a lot of logistics. I will say that getting, making sure all the caterers showed up, making sure our live entertainment was good to go. Because we had a lot live entertainment a lot nights. We had, you know, make sure all our campsite arrangements were good to go, trying to get everyone where they needed to be on time. But that really wasn’t an issue with this group because my God, were they excellent paddlers. The one day, on Thursday, so they were already, you know, five, six days into the sojourn. They still, uh, despite low water levels from a kind of a drought we’ve had recently, they still were able to paddle 19 miles in just over six hours. So this was a really hardy bunch of paddlers who joined us and very experienced. They were always willing to lend a hand with anything we needed. So, you know, it just made it so much easier on us and the guides and water trail managers we had with us.

Josh Raulerson (10:37)

Yeah, I was curious about the water level and between that and the sort of air quality emergency, that’s a lot to be up against.

Cain Chamberlin

Yeah. You, uh, when you do plan an event like this, you have all sorts of contingency plans, whether it be high water, low water, thunderstorms, whatever, but, uh, wildfires in Canada were not one of them.

So, uh, that was kind of right outta left field. But like I said, they, they muscled right through it. They did not let it phase them one bit. During lunch that day, we had Tim, the director of Fish and Boat come and talk to us. And, uh, you know, he had mentioned that, you know, on 81, I mean, it was so hazy that traffic was almost coming to a standstill because it was just so visibility was so low. And it was really low on the river as well. But all, all, they, some asked at lunch if we could go and get some masks for them. And we ran up to the local hardware store in Tunkhannock, grabbed some, and went right back out on the river. So, yeah, they did not let it phase ’em one bit.

Josh Raulerson (11:33)

The River of the Year Sojourn was kind of the centerpiece, I think, of the year’s festivities around River the Year, but I think you’ve got some other paddling events planned as well in connection. Is that right?

Cain Chamberlin (11:43)

Absolutely. Yeah. So we just got off the water after a week on it, and we’re going right back out on Thursday to start our Youth Heritage Sojourn. That’s our annual event. It’s a three day paddle, two nights at Camp Lackawanna. And it’s, uh, another record sojourn. We have 70 kids signed up for this. We are at max. capacity. We’ve never had that many before. Fortunately our outfitter, we work with our water trail manager, Endless Mountain Outfitters, they are, you know, such a great group to work with, as is Susquehanna Kayaking, new rentals, who helped us out on the weeklong sojourn that just ended. But the Youth Sojourn, uh, we normally have a between 40 and 50 kids, uh, this year because of some extra help and extra shuttle, uh, transportation, we are able to take that up to 70. Uh, and we were able to reach that goal. So, I mean we’re really ecstatic about this. Hopefully the weather holds out like it did for the last group. We want the kids to have a good time, learn a lot about kayaking, safety, the history and the ecology of the river, and hopefully make a good new generation of environmental stewards who really appreciate the North Branch Susquehanna.

Josh Raulerson (12:57)

Yeah. I wanted to ask, what’s the change you see come over people that undergo this experience or one like it for the first time? I mean, I heard you say you’ve got some, you’ve got some hardcore return paddlers, but what about those new folks? What’s the experience they have and how does that support your mission?

Cain Chamberlin (13:11)

Well, the new folks, I mean, you know, a lot of them get into it for different reasons. Some of them just want to, you know, if they’re a novice paddler, uh, they just want to learn some things from our guides. If they’re a fisherman. We had a gentleman along the week long sojourn, he literally went fishing the entire way. He, you know, just kind of trolled along with the group and he would reel in some, a small mouth every now and then. He was looking for a muskie, but he never quite got it. But he had just a great time as it is. A lot of people liked to come and hear about the history, because we do a lot of educational programming that we incorporate into our paddling events. So I say it’s, you know, it’s something different for everybody.

We also have a lot of people who are just coming to meet new paddlers. They want to, you know, form those friendships with folks who have similar interests. So they can do some paddles together on their own without an organized group. So yeah, there, I mean, overall, I think it’s just a, a wonderful experience to get out to the Susquehanna. There’s so much intrinsic beauty. You see so many different plant life wildlife. I mean, we saw eagles every day on the river. You know, seeing, uh, Lee reeling a fish every now and then. You know, we were seeing deer, uh, heron blue heron. I mean, it, it was just incredible experience with the mountains surrounding, you know, going by paddling, by all the little quaint towns that are through the Endless Mountains and down in the Shickshinny and Wilkes-Barre, Pittston area. It’s just, you can’t beat the experience overall. You’re seeing so many amazing things an along the way. And even despite low water levels, we never had to do any porting or anything like that. Everyone was able to stay on the river, didn’t have to do any carry the canoes or kayaks. So it just worked out perfectly. It could not have gone better. But I think the biggest takeaway, uh, was the friendships that formed. I mean, there are, there were so many people at the end who were exchanging contact information and making sure they could keep in touch. So I, I think those, the bonds that you form on the river is probably the most important thing.

Josh Raulerson (15:29)
Yeah. Well, I imagine some of those are hopefully, you know, new friends and supporters of the Heritage Region.

Cain Chamberlin (15:35)

And Yes. We had a lot of new members, uh, sign up this week. We had a lot of ’em buy our water trail maps for the North Branch. They were all interested in hearing, uh, what else we had going on for the rest of the summer, learning about the other things we do, since we are such a multifaceted organization. They wanted to learn more about our historic preservation efforts, our educational programming, our workshops that we do, our grants program. So they were, they were very interested. It was a great group of folks who, you could tell, uh, were they truly cared, uh, about, you know, the different organizations and agencies they were able to meet with.

Josh Raulerson (16:13)

I want to have you expand on all those things you just mentioned. But, uh, starting with the Water Trail, for those that don’t know about what that designation means, could you explain what it is and what’s your role in supporting the trail?

Cain Chamberlin (16:13)

Well, this is actually really huge for us. Secretary Dunn came to our post-River of the Year poster unveiling before she joined us on the river the next day. And she had mentioned, and I, I actually wasn’t aware of this. I’ve been with the organization five years. The last time the North Branch got River of the Year was in 2016. Uh, but it also had gotten the designation many times before that, which I was aware of. But I didn’t know that we have been given that prestigious designation six times, which makes us the most awarded River of the Year, uh, in the state. So that was really cool to find out. I didn’t realize we had received that designation, uh, the most out of all the water trails across the state. So that really means a lot.

We are ecstatic, uh, to, you know, manage this water trail, uh, the North Branch along with the co-manage it with, uh, Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. We do the first 150 miles approximately, and then they do the last 35 or 40. So we have the Susquehanna Great Bend portion in Susquehanna County. And then when it reenters at Athens and Sara and Bradford County all the way down to the Zern Columbia County line, uh, it’s quite a bit to manage. But we basically work with our outfitters and a few avid paddlers who we call Water Trail Managers. And, uh, essentially every year we do site visits. We go to all our public access sites, uh, see if they are in need of anything, whether it be clearing out, you know, overgrown vegetation, adding restrooms, signage, uh, you know, better launches. So we go to organizations like the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers and PEC to, you know, get those water trail mini grants. It was just a few years ago, back during Covid time, 2020, we were able to get a water trail mini grant to help us improve the launch at Endless Mountain Outfitters. And, uh, we were able to make that kind of a public launch as well where people can, you know, use this beautifully new constructed concrete ramp, uh, to get, to get their kayaks and canoes onto the river. So, you know, it’s not only that, it’s also making sure people are educated. We do river cleanup events. We, you know, do a lot of educational programming where we preach about, you know, not only paddling safety and paddling demonstrations. We also talk about that environmental stewardship aspect, how we really want people to become stewards of the river and make sure it does stay clean for future generations.

We still have a long way to go on that front, but I don’t think anyone would disagree that the North Branch is, the Susquehanna River in general, is so much cleaner than it used to be back in the, you know, fifties, sixties, early seventies before a lot of those environmental regulations, uh, fortunately came out. And we were able to, you know, clean it up quite a bit and make sure it was protected. So, um, I think it’s important that, you know, when we’re managing the water trail, uh, I’d never say we’re managing the river or the North Branch, that we manage the water trail. We’re making sure that it is used, uh, responsibly, uh, for recreationalists, anglers, paddlers, all those different folks, bird watchers. We have a ton of those who come out onto the river now cause it is such a great site to see raptors and different, different birds out there. So but yeah, I mean, in essence, it’s really just working together as a team, uh, to make sure that it is publicly accessible, uh, to people of all backgrounds, ages, what have you. And that it is, uh, it’s taken care of. That’s really our main goal.

Josh Raulerson (20:12)
So, as you said, there’s a lot going on in the Endless Mountains, and not all of it is on the water. I hear you have some pretty good gravel riding up there.

Cain Chamberlin (20:19)
Yes. So for the last, oh gosh, two and a half years now, and we’re still making revisions to it, uh, we worked with our local tourism bureaus, the Bradford County Tourism Promotion Agency, and the Endless Mountain Visitors Bureau, as well as Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission to create a, well, approximately 415-mile bike packing loop through our four counties. We realized that gravel biking was becoming such a huge thing across the, across the country. We’ve always had some great gravel rides here that were pretty well established, including like the Tour de Shunk out in Sullivan County, Bradford County. We have the Endless Mountains Gravel Ride, Grinduro, which is an international cycling event just came to our area for the first time last year, and they’ll be here this weekend as well.

It was amazing to see us, little Sullivan County, PA, among all of these really exotic cycling destinations like Italy, France, California, just, Germany, Australia, I mean, just so many great places that they go. And here they came to our little rural neck of the woods in Northeast Pennsylvania. So that was quite an achievement of our region to, you know, see that come here. So Donna Iannone, who is a Sullivan County Commissioner and an EMHR board member,  kind of had this, you know, brainchild of an idea to, uh, you know, create this loop. And she started working with us and it’s, it’s gone really well. We already had a couple from Ottawa come down and test ride it for us.  We have David Landis, who is one of the founders of the TransVirginia bike route. He’s hoping to come up here in August and do his own test ride of it, following some revisions we’re making after the lovely couple from Ottawa came down and rode it in a little over a week’s time. So we’re constantly making improvements. We know it’s gonna be an evolving project as it goes on, but, you know, we really wanted to use it as sort of an economic booster. We try to get all those who use it into our downtowns so they can resupply use a lot of our local shops. They can go to our museums, historical societies, breweries, wineries, our scenic overlooks. We have take ’em through all of our state parks, uh, and our state forests. So it’s just a, a really cool way to showcase what we have here in the Endless Mountains.

Josh Raulerson (22:54)

Yeah. If we could focus on the, the economic piece. Because you know, you’ve got, you’ve got all the makings, you’ve got gravel, you’ve got paddling, birding, fishing, and obviously all the history. How does it all come together into a sort of a cohesive economic picture? And what role do you play in that? Where are the opportunities and what needs to happen to capitalize on them?

Cain Chamberlin (23:12)

I think it’s a big part of that is just that communication making sure we’re partnering with the right organizations, the right businesses, the right, you know, advocates who really wanna see the Endless Mountains become a premier outdoor destination, a heritage destination. You know, we always strive to push that heritage tourism, make sure that our museums and historical societies are well visited, and our outdoor rec sites are well used, responsibly of course. We don’t like litterbugs out there, but we just wanna make sure people are enjoying everything we have to offer here. So, you know, when we, our week-long sojourn that I just spoke about, you know, the entire journey, uh, we used small business, uh, to cater, uh, all of our meals. We used local artists to provide all the live entertainment.

We used our local agencies and partners to do a lot of the guest speaking and help us get those campsites that we used each night. So it’s really just establishing that camaraderie throughout the region and making the right people realize that this is a huge economic driver. There was that recent study that came out by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that found outdoor recreation alone as a $14 billion industry in the state of Pennsylvania. So it’s important for us to ensure we’re getting a slice of that pie and people are aware of the Endless Mountains. So, as part of our Endless Mountains gravel bike packing loop, or as we call it, the EMGBL, we have a bicycle friendly business program. We’re trying to get all of our local businesses and municipalities to sign up, which is free. And that ensures that cyclists, when they’re coming through on the, on the route, they have places to stop, you know, hospitable places that are going to provide ’em with the amenities they need, whether it be something as simple as a, a public restroom and a water bottle refill. Places they can resupply places, they can park for their long-term trip, places they can get a shower, places they can, uh, charge their electronic devices that they have with them. You know, you can provide the trail or the route, but you can’t provide that hospitality for the whole 415 miles. So that’s why we need so many other businesses and municipalities to step up, to make sure that they’re taken care of along their trip, that they have these amenities and necessities to make the journey. So we just want to round everyone up, make sure we’re all on the same page, and we’re all pushing for a better place to live and to visit.

Josh Raulerson (25:51)

The businesses that you work with, where, where are they kind of at with this? Are they, do they think of themselves as part of a region as part of a $14-billion outdoor economy? Is it moving that direction? Or, or is it already there?

Cain Chamberlin (26:03)

You know, we hope they feel that way. I’m sure some do more than others. It’s getting everyone’s heads turned the right way and realizing the benefits of the outdoor recreation industry, whether it’s, you know, the heritage tourism or the outdoor recreational tourism. There is definitely a lot there to support their business or their organization or the town they live in. I mean, you know, when a hiker, a cyclist, a paddler, or just a history buff coming to visit a local museum or historical society, they come into your area, they’re there to spend money. They’re there to not only utilize your assets, but they wanna support those local towns and those local businesses, you know, particularly following Covid, the pandemic, when so many of these businesses were hit so hard. I think it’s really important that they, you know, get on board and, you know, make sure that they’re being as hospitable as possible to, you know, these folks coming in to utilize our outdoor assets.

Josh Raulerson (27:05)
Would you like to sort of expand on the heritage piece a little bit too, since obviously that’s an important part of what you do? And earlier you, when we were talking, you had mentioned some historic restoration preservation work.

Cain Chamberlin (27:15)

Yeah. So at the beginning of this year we had a very successful series of cemetery preservation workshops. So basically we got together a bunch of folks who are from cemetery associations, you know, our historical societies or folks who just had a general interest maybe in preserving a, a family plot or something like that. So one of our board members, Brian Leone, is a heritage management consultant. He has his own firm. He has actually worked for the Smithsonian at one point. He has traveled the world. He still goes to, you know, areas that are experiencing civil unrest or, you know, are war torn. And he’s preserving all of the artifacts and historic documents and things like that. So we brought, bring him in. He’s just an incredible speaker and just a wealth of knowledge.

But he was teaching everyone how to, you know, preserve headstones in the appropriate way. Then we do our heritage management workshops with Brian. A lot of our museums and historical societies, particularly in a rural region like ours, operate on volunteer help. So they don’t have the formal training in terms of the handling, documenting, cataloging, and storing of these historic artifacts that are in our museums. And, uh, this is just a great way to get them that information. They go through a pretty lengthy course and at the end, each registrant is provided a, you know, booklet recapping all the things they’ve learned. So if they have a new volunteer or a new employee come in to their organization, they have something they can show them, you know, read through this and, uh, you’ll, you know, learn what we learned at the workshops.

The workshops are great because it’s more hands-on and you get that one-on-one formal training with Brian. But we love putting on those events. We received some DCNR funding to keep those going. It started as a kind of a pilot program out Susquehanna County.  Because we got a Marcellus Legacy Fund mini grant, Marcellus Legacy Fund mini grant to do those workshops. So we’ve always kind of used that area as our jump-off point. And then we do our best to expand it to the entire region. And we’re hoping to do that for the cemetery workshops as well. We do a partnership grants, a mini grants program every year. This year we gave out $65,000, which is normally the average amount. And, uh, we were able to fund 13 different projects across our four counties. Some are pertaining to a museum or historical society for exhibits or building rehabilitations. Others are, you know, for park and trail enhancements throughout the region.

We also fund some educational programming as well. So Keystone College is doing a Living with the Land Series where they teach a lot about the environment and, uh, the trail system that they have there at the Woodlands Campus. We’ve also had our Young Explorers program that we’ve funded quite frequently. That’s getting, uh, youth out into nature and learning a lot about the species and plant life, the river, and all those really cool things, uh, that we hope kids want to learn about. So, uh, it’s a really great grants program. It’s been very successful since we started it way back when we started in 1998. We’ve been able to put over $3 million in state funding into our local region.

And, keep in mind that that $3 million in state funding is also with a full match. So each organization provides a full match for the grant they receive. And that can be through cash or in-kind match. So if they have volunteer help, um, or if they have a, you know, cash from another grant that qualifies to be matched or a donor or something along those lines, they can, you know, really do a nice project. There, our grants are for up to $10,000 with a full match. So not only is it a great way to get that state funding from DCNR, the Environmental Stewardship Fund to put back into our region these folks are matching it with volunteer help and cash match, which allows them to reinvest in their communities and organizations as well.

Josh Raulerson (31:43)

So many things going on. I can tell you’re a busy guy, so I’m gonna let you get back to your busy day, but I really appreciate the time spent this morning. Thank you so much for being on the show. Congratulations on the anniversary and on River of the Year.

Cain Chamberlin

Thank you very much. We hope everyone’s looking forward to our, the rest of the events we have lined up. You can go to and, uh, check out everything we have going on. We do have an events page on there. And one of the biggest things would be our Outdoor Heritage Expo that we’re gonna be holding at the Wyoming County Fairgrounds, uh, September 29th and 30th. And we’re hoping to bring together all of our, you know, regional businesses and organizations,  whether they pertain to the outdoors or history. And we’re bringing in some folks from outside the region as well as vendors. And going to put together some nice programming. We’re gonna do a paddle to Celebrate River of the Year in our 25th anniversary. And we also have a hiking event at our newest state park in the region.

Josh Raulerson (32:42)

Great. And we will include links to all those things you mentioned on the episode post that goes along with this podcast episode. Again, Cain Chamberlin, executive director of Endless Mountains Heritage Region. Thanks again for your time today. Great talking with you.

Cain Chamberlin (32:55)

Well thank you, Josh. I appreciate it.

Josh Raulerson (32:57)

By the way, there are river sojourns happening all over Pennsylvania this summer, and every summer. And PEC staff are out there paddling along, taking pictures and talking to folks. Keep watching the PEC website for dispatches from some of those events. Better yet, take advantage of an opportunity near you to get out on the water. There are still a few sojourns left on this year’s calendar, and you can learn more about them on the website. Look for the link in the notes for this episode at, The website also has all of our past podcast episodes and lots of information on PEC’s activities across our portfolio of program work, a large part of which is watershed protection and restoration, involving recreation and other activities, public education, getting people out there in their local watersheds, getting them involved that way. That’s all for this time. We’ll be back with another episode of Pennsylvania Legacies after the 4th of July holiday. Until then, get outside, get involved, and thanks for listening.