Northeast proud of its hiking areas

March 1, 2020 Altoona Mirror
PEC in the News

DENNISON TWP. — From hikes with astronomers, doctors and foresters to yoga by the river and a winter kayaking trip called Shiverfest, regional outdoors enthusiasts have tried novel ways to promote trails and waterways.

During a recent trails meeting, volunteers and workers from parks, preserves and nonprofit groups shared strategies with each other.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council convenes the forum four times a year, always at a different location.

This time, the group met at Nescopeck State Park, where members could sit inside a conference room for only so long.

After lunch, they took a hike, led by Diane Madl, the park’s environmental educator.

Madl paused by a pond where she once saw three river otters surface. She also explained how the discovery of the world’s largest cluster of variable sedge, a globally threatened plant, squelched plans for flooding the Nescopeck Valley for powerboating. Instead, the park remained an undisturbed setting for education programs, which she oversees.

Whether on the trail or in the conference room, the forumgoers traded ideas for developing outdoor recreation throughout Northeast Pennsylvania, and they exchanged good news.

“I’ve only got one thing to say: River of the Year,” John Morrow, a board member of the Lackawanna River Conservation Association, said.

The designation bestowed on the Lackawanna River by Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources comes with $10,000 that the association will use to plan activities throughout the year.

For the hike, the bearded Morrow donned a brimmed hat and threw a brown canvas work coat over his denim jacket. He told about his battles to uproot an invasive plant, Japanese knotweed, from trails that he tends. He shared his enthusiasm for river mussels, which might help reduce the regional burden of treating stormwater. Each mollusk can filter 50 gallons of water a day. And he explained his conservation ethos: He walks or bikes instead of driving whenever possible and returns cigarettes to his silver case after stubbing them out instead of leaving them to pollute the ground.

Joseph Holland, who serves on the board with Morrow, said the association just got the title to Rudy’s Junkyard, a site in Scranton that provides access to the river and which the association plans to clean up.

Soon, Holland said the association expects to take possession of another cleanup project, Lehigh Electric in Old Forge, a U.S. Superfund site.

Replacement of the Green Ridge Street Bridge in Scranton, which Holland expects to happen by 2026, will provide connections to trails on the east and west sides of the river.

Connectivity was a theme throughout the session.

John Petrini said bicyclists met in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre recently to plan routes that will lead through their downtowns to trails. The recommendations will be in a report that the Lackawanna Luzerne County Metropolitan Planning Organization expects to release by summer.

Ryan Coker said the North Branch Land Trust hopes to finish a section of the Black Diamond Trail that will skirt Little Wilkes-Barre Mountain and the Seven Tubs natural area while linking Oliver Mills with Northampton Street in Wilkes-Barre by summer 2021.

Lance Kittelson said the Susquehanna Warrior Trail that he and other volunteers build and maintain runs between the Susquehanna Riverlands in Salem Twp. and West Nanticoke.

But filling in a gap of 3¢ miles would tie the Warrior Trail to the levee trail in Wilkes-Barre. Kittelson said that missing section is engineered already and will cost $1.5 million to install, a project for which his group seeks grants.

Fundraising is another theme that united people at the forum.

Whenever someone mentioned a grant, moderators from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council asked who provided the grant so everyone in the audience knew where to seek funds.

To install 6 miles of trail in Susquehanna County to the New York border, the Rail Trail Council tapped five funding sources.

“You’ve got to juggle that all around,” said Lynn Conrad of the Union Dale-based council.

The Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails group scored grants for an upcoming construction project by thinking imaginatively.

Instead of building a bridge over an active coal road near the trails’ end in Hazle Brook, the group opted to install a culvert so hikers, runners and bicyclists can walk beneath the road.

Joseph Yannuzzi, the executive director, said the group obtained bicycles to rent this spring.

A story walk staged with Greater Hazleton Area Public Library this fall went so well that the group might make it a permanent part of the trail. For the walk, the group posted pages of a children’s book on signs that parents and children discussed as they hiked.

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