Last year NPC had planned to lead a group hike on the Butternut Trail at Worlds End State Park to celebrate the 30th anniversary. Portions of the Butternut Trail traverse NPC’s ‘Flynn’ partnered acquisition. NPC purchased the ‘Flynn’ property, over 600 acres of prime forest land, in 1993 to form the northern and eastern boundaries of Worlds End State Park. While planning the hike, we realized the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) was planning a similar hike on the same weekend as part of their Sullivan County Hikes and Bikers series: The Worlds End Challenge. So, naturally, we teamed up!
Of course, the event was postponed last year due to COVID-19. Recently, EMHR reached out and asked if we’d lead the hike this year as part of The Worlds End Challenge. Their two-day event, May 22 – May 23, challenges hikers to visit every Worlds End State Park vista/overlook over the course of the weekend.
Due to COVID-19 guidelines and current restrictions on EMHR/DCNR events, the event is limited to 50 people, so sign up fast! All guidelines, including masks and social distancing, will be applied where necessary.
It’s official! The Bureau of Forestry has taken over ownership of the ‘Bar Bottom’ property. This 112-acre addition to the Loyalsock State Forest has not only expanded public access to Bar Bottom Hollow and the surrounding public land, but also helped conserve the overall natural beauty of the Loyalsock Valley!
When the bidding started at the auction for the ‘Bar Bottom’ property last summer, THIS is the moment that Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, was holding her breath for. This full circle moment, from recognizing the community value and conservation significance of a piece of land, to ensuring that it will be cared for and available for generations to come. And members of NPC made it all possible! THANK YOU!
The incorporation of this land into the Loyalsock State Forest is significant because it makes it easier for outdoor recreationalists to access Bar Bottom Hollow and will help with management of this block of State Forest Land. Located east of Jacoby Falls (another popular hiking destination that NPC helped conserve access to), Bar Bottom Hollow boasts several spectacular waterfalls throughout the gorge. Hikers can access the Hollow by hiking in from Jacoby Falls or Wallis Run (please note that there is no public way to access the property from the Route 87 side of the Creek).
A cold-water stream in which trout reproduce naturally also winds through the land before entering the Loyalsock Creek. As part of the State Forest system, this water resource will be stewarded for the benefit of the wildlife that need it and the people that enjoy it.
To date, NPC has purchased over 6,400 acres to contribute to public land in northcentral Pennsylvania. In addition, NPC holds 47 conservation easements and 1 facade easement on over 4,735 acres. Learn more about these projects.
The area of the Cavanaugh Access that now has a nature trail on it was once a marshy wetland that was changed to allow farming (celery and maybe lettuce), and further changed when a railroad was constructed down through the middle of it. Some of the vegetation that is there now is native, but some of it isn’t native. It isn’t native to Pennsylvania or perhaps even North America, but it’s sure there now!
One way to try to control and in some cases eliminate non-native vegetation is through controlled burns. These are not wildfires, but fires set during specific weather conditions in specific times of the year to add fire back into an ecosystem. This fire can allow native vegetation to re-set and possibly remove non-native vegetation. Fire was part of the ecosystem in Pennsylvania for thousands of years and isn’t as common as it once was.
As humans we have built things (houses, communities, etc.) and changed land cover (there’s a lot less forest cover than there used to be) so that fires are extinguished. In some places and in some instances a controlled fire can help an ecosystem re-start and help plants do what they are naturally designed to do.
The fire at the Cavanaugh Access earlier this week was a controlled burn conducted by the Bureau of Forestry and their trained staff. They train their staff to both use fire to manage land and fight fires when it’s accidentally started (lightening strikes, wayward campfire, etc.). One of the major causes of forest fires in Pennsylvania, however, is debris burning. A careless person burning trash or yard waste can be responsible for causing wildfires that burn thousands of acres of valuable Pennsylvania forests.
As you travel the Pine Creek Trail past the property, make it a point to watch how the property changes. Pay attention to when the property starts to get green and compare it to other areas along that stretch of the trail. Watch what vegetation comes back in, and what doesn’t. Enjoy watching nature do what it does best.
Spring. A season of change, growth, and opportunity. It brings with it the hope that from a small seedling can grow the tallest hemlock in the forest. As its roots strengthen and its limbs stretch wide, its role in the forest evolves too. Now it can provide shade, stability, nourishment, habitat, and help others grow as well.
Much like the seedling, the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) started as an idea and grew.
From that very first town hall meeting to NPC’s first “official member” (a posthumous ‘thank you’, again, to Spencer Kraybill for paving the way!).
From creating and enhancing public access to places like the beloved Pine Creek Rail Trail, to improving our local water quality through numerous streambank stabilization projects.
From growing a conservation easement program responsible for stewarding over 4,700 acres across Northcentral PA, to most recently adding 112-acres of publicly owned land to the Loyalsock State Forest with the ‘Bar Bottom’ acquisition. Over the past 31 years, NPC’s legacy and conservation impact have continued to grow.
Why the Change
Members and supporters of NPC, have helped do some amazing things over the years! And just as NPC’s membership grew, so did NPC’s programs and ability to conserve our region’s natural resources for the well-being of our communities and generations to come.
For the past several months, NPC’s board and staff have been working to create a new logo for the organization that is a more comprehensive visual representation of NPC’s mission and scope of projects.
The original logo
of the singular tree has served NPC well, and we are grateful for the roots
that it helped NPC establish. The new
logo tells the story of everything NPC has grown to be.
A Message from NPC Board Chair, Tiffani Kase
“The Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) logo has a new look, although the hard-working organization remains the same! The new logo represents the expanded scope of NPC’s conservation impact across the region, and we are so grateful for the ongoing support of our membership. Because of you, we are able to continue taking on projects, and conserving lands that support the environmental well-being, and recreational needs of, our communities. Thank you so much for all of your support, and we hope that you enjoy the new logo as much as we do!”
Tiffani Kase, NPC Board Chair
From generational family farms, to working forests, and landscapes rich with history – NPC’s robust conservation easement program and partnered acquisitions help ensure that our natural resources are cared for and stewarded for many years to come.
As a founding member of the Northcentral Stream Partnership, NPC is helping to bring the region’s local water resources back to health while maintaining a working agricultural landscape. The Partnership’s success is currently being used as a model across the state as part of the ongoing efforts to improve the water quality throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay.
Food. Water. Jobs. Education. Heritage. Recreation. Nature nourishes our communities in so many ways. This past year has demonstrated to all of us just how vital having access to the outdoors is for our mental and physical wellbeing. NPC remains committed to creating and enhancing access to the hiking and water trails, fishing holes, vistas, and other recreational opportunities that make Northcentral PA such a special place to live, work, play, and visit.
Broom-sedge Broom-sedge is a clump-forming bluestem grass – it’s not a sedge at all! Native to southeastern United States, it can survive northward to the Great Lakes. Growing two to three feet tall in a narrow, upright vase-shape, its withered vegetation which has withstood the winter is more obvious and frequently more striking than in summer.
Member of the Grass Family, POACEAE, the genus of bluestem grasses is Andropogon, the Greek names for “man’s beard”. Seed earlets with a long hairy bristle and feathery stalks give these grasses a soft whitish color when the sun shines on them. Their hairy appearance diminishes as winds and small birds remove seeds.
You can find clumps of this perennial grass scattered here and there across sunny pastures, in old fields ,and along open woods. They are invaders of disturbed land and have dense fibrous roots helpful against erosion, but may also be an indicator of poor, infertile soils.
In Australia, our broom-sedge is known as “whiskey grass” because it was used as packaging around bottles of American whiskey and accidentally introduced there!
Common Motherswort Keep your gloves on when you reach out to touch this plant’s burr-like seed pods whirled around its stem! Common Motherswort has a prickly quality about it, both during its growing season and as an attractive addition to the winter snowscape.
Its square stem appears to be interrupted with clusters of small tubes, working their way to the top of an almost five foot flower spike. If you look closely, you can see the tiny, but determined, prickles surrounding each tube that had originally held seeds. Identified as a medicine plant since the time of the ancient Greeks, Motherswort was moved around a lot in Europe and Asia. It came to America with colonists as a useful plant for female disorders, hence the name. The “Wort” part comes from an Old English word meaning root or plant.
A member of the Mint Family, LAMIACEAE, Motherswort has the required square stem, opposite leaves, and scented leaves. Its scientific name, Leonurus cardiaca, indicates that some folks thought its tall, leafy stem resembled a lion’s tail. Think of that if you go to pull this plant from its preferred habitat of stream banks and roadsides, old fields and railroad cinders!
It sure has been a thrilling season for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and whatever else your outdoor winter activity of choice might be! And Northcentral PA was the place to be for outdoor recreation enthusiasts – not just for the snowfall – but for the access to trails and land available for the public to enjoy.
The Pine Creek Rail Trail, in particular, saw a lot of action this month. NPC members helped conserve several of the access points – like Cavanaugh and Tomb Flats – to this beloved trail. Now doesn’t that good feeling just warm you right up?!
But, as much as we enjoyed all the winter views, we did pass by a couple other NPC projects and properties in February that had us longing for springtime…
Northern Bayberry It has been a joy for me this snowy season to search out my favorite plants and trees in their winter garb in order to share them with you. Some lose leaves, some keep leaves, some have easily identified bark, some retain scent, some have recognizable fruits like seedpods or berries. Northern Bayberry, (Myrica pensylvanica), native to eastern North America, has leaves, scent and fruits! It is a member of the MYRICACEAE Family like Sweet Fern, last week’s post.
This bushy perennial shrub can be found growing in a wide range of soil conditions, especially relatively poor sandy ones, because of the beneficial symbiotic relationship with colonies of bacteria growing in its root nodules. The Bayberry provides sugars and a variety of minerals for the bacteria, while the bacteria uses its complex biochemical processes to transform atmospheric nitrogen (N2), unusable by the plant, into NH3, an ammonia that provides nutrition for it.
Look for it in open woods, old fields, especially around old homesteads, where early settlers who made their own candles could easily have sent their children out to pick large amounts of the wax-covered grayish-green berries. After boiling the berries in water to melt off the fragrant wax, it was cooled, removed from the water, and re-melted for pouring into candle molds or for the slow process of dipping wicks into it. The resulting candles were treasured for their scent when burning, particularly for holiday celebrations.
Sweet Fern Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a flowering shrub, not a fern at all! A member of the Bayberry Family, MYRICACEAE, and the only living species in its genus, it is a native of Eastern North America.
Because it is a nitrogen-fixer, I like to think that this plant may have been an important soil builder-upper of the glaciated areas of PA, following the retreating ice sheets of the Pleistocene Era. Its long, thin notched leaves have an exotic look about them, as well as an amazing spicy, aromatic scent when crushed. During winter, the leaves will turn from olive green to a coppery-brown color, but retain their scent. That is probably why American colonists used them to stuff mattresses…for sweet dreams and to repel pesky fleas and lice.
I have found colonies of Sweet fern in open woods, fields, and marsh edges, full sun to part shade. If you are out camping and bothered by flying insects, throw a handful of Sweet fern on your campfire coals for an instant and great smelling smudge.
The vibrant and active world of birds has long been a fascinating field of discovery. Bird watching offers a safe and enjoyable way to connect with nature and provides a sense of excitement when seeing something new. So, perhaps you too, like so many others this past year, found yourself entranced by the flittering feathers outside your window? Regardless of your experience, bird lovers from all over the world are invited to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Participating is easy, fun to do alone, or with others, and can be done anywhere you find birds. Simply watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days, February 12-15, 2021, and report back what you see!
To help get ready for the count this weekend, we’re reaching into the NPC blog vault to reshare some insight on some of our area’s more “popular” backyard birds, by former NPC Land Steward, Charlie Schwartz.
Northern cardinals are usually the most colorful birds to visit backyard feeders where they feast on sunflower and other seeds. Male cardinals are bright red beneath and brownish red on their backs; females are much more brown which offers better concealment when they incubate their eggs in an open nest in dense shrubbery. Cardinals prefer brushy habitat dominated by shrubs and small trees; that is why they are fairly common in residential neighborhoods containing many shrubs. Males sing loudly in spring and females also occasionally sing. Cardinals are crepuscular meaning that they are most active at dawn or dusk; they are often the last birds to visit a feeder in the evening. As the climate changes and winters get warmer, cardinals have been extending their range northward into northern New England and southern Canada.
One of the most popular birds is the black-capped chickadee, which some people call “the little boy of the woods” for their constant motion and apparent joie di vivre. Black-capped chickadees are found from southern Pennsylvania to the northern limit of trees in Canada and frequent a multitude of habitats from old growth forests to reverting brushy fields. They nest in tree cavities, old woodpecker holes and in nest boxes; they spend winter nights in similar locations. It has been reported that chickadees have about two hours to find food each morning before lack of nourishment proves fatal. At feeders they prefer sunflower seeds but will also eat corn, suet and peanut butter; they frequently cache surplus food for use later. Remarkably, their brains actually produce new cells and grow by about 30% in fall so they can remember all those cache sites (up to 100,000) and then shrink in the spring.
Downy woodpeckers are our smallest woodpecker and like chickadees are found in a wide variety of habitats. They are common in residential neighborhoods that contain fairly large trees where they nest in small cavities that they excavate in soft or decaying wood. Also like chickadees, they spend winter nights in cavities where they are protected from cold temperatures and chilling winds. Downy woodpeckers will visit feeders to feast on suet and peanut butter and will even eat corn and sunflower seeds by wedging them in bark crevices and pounding them open. Along with chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and brown creepers, downy woodpeckers will form a feeding cohort that travels through woodland. Each species in the cohort has a different feeding strategy and thus does not compete against the others. Male downy woodpeckers have a small red spot on the back of their heads, which females lack.
Fifty years ago it was an unusual occurrence to have a number of tufted titmice visiting a feeder in northcentral Pennsylvania every day. Following a hard winter they might disappear for a year or more until young birds wandering into territories unoccupied since the death of the previous residents re-established a population. As winters have warmed over the last few decades the tufted titmouse, generally considered a southern species, have become permanent and common residents of woodlands, fencerows, brushy fields and suburban areas in northcentral Pennsylvania. Titmice frequently are members of feeding cohorts which include chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers – each species feeds on similar food items but has a different method of foraging and thus don’t actually compete for food.
But, if we think of bird feeders as the avian
equivalent of a fancy restaurant it should be readily apparent that feeders are
not the be-all and end-all of what these birds need. They also need a place to
live – correctly called habitat. That habitat must include winter roosting
sites and nesting site, both being tree hollows or similar cavities, as well as
other sources of food including insects and cover in which to escape inclement
weather and predators.
Seedpods: Spreading Dogbane & Indian Hemp On your winter rambles – especially near wet or disturbed old fields or cindery ground near limestone outcrops – look for the unusual seedpods of these plants.
They look like wishbones hanging down against the snow. We have two native species in our area identifiable in summer by different colored blooms and both attracting bees, moths, and butterflies. They are members of the APOCYNACEAE or Dogbane Family, perennials found throughout North America.
The common name “dogbane” because the white milky sap is toxic to dogs, livestock, us; although it was used as a heart medicine in times past. The common name “Indian Hemp” because its tough fibers were used to make nets and cordage. Surprise! Both names have been used for both plants! See why I like to use scientific names for plants?
Anyway, the one mostly called Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum)is taller, up to four feet, and has longer pods, five to eight inches long. The one mostly called Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is shorter at about two feet with two inch long pods. And the scientific names are the reason why people use common names! Right?
Just look for the pods and think about summer… when these plants’ flowers each put out a pair of long, tapered pods that release fluffy parachutes of seeds into the warm, sunny sky.
American Chestnut Tree The American chestnut tree and my recent post, the American beech tree, are both members of the same family, FAGACEAE, or Beech Family. Our native chestnut, Castanea dentata, was a very large tree, up to 100 feet tall with a massive trunk and a broad crown. These trees provided strong, straight-grained wood for building and lots of sweet, meaty chestnuts for humans and wildlife to enjoy.
Sadly, an airborne Asian bark fungus was accidently imported in 1904 and spread so rapidly in forty years, it wiped out this once abundant species which had made up a quarter of the Eastern Hardwood forests from Maine to Mississippi. Some say as many as four billion trees were infected, girdled, and killed. Fortunately, their underground roots can survive and put up stump sprouts that may grow long enough to reproduce before succumbing to the blight.
The American Chestnut Foundation is one of many organizations dedicated to creating a blight-resistant American chestnut that can be reintroduced to our forests. Until then, we have stump sprouts which can grow up to thirty feet tall and be identified during the winter because they retain their leaves, like American beech. On your walks or skiing, look back through the woods for brown leaves, five to eight inches long with hooked teeth at the end of each parallel vein and check to see if the tree they are on is part of a group of trunks, coming up from an old tree stump.
American Beech Our native beech trees are a standout in the woods around here, with or without leaves! Several references use the phrase “elephant-legged beeches” to describe the smooth, silvery-gray bark of mature trees, as well as the diameter of their trunks. Not elephant trunks, silly!
During winter months, young beeches are excellent examples of marcescence, the retention of dried, dead leaves. Their dull, greenish-blue leaves grow up to five inches long during the growing season. In fall, they turn yellow and brown and remain attached to gracefully slender twigs bearing new, pointy buds for spring. Look for their leafy groupings along forest roadsides.
They are shade tolerant, but slow growing, taking ten years to grow two feet tall in northern PA. They compensate for slow growth-rate with longevity: three lucky beech trees are listed in the PA section of Monumental Trees, all over 200 years old.
When colonists arrived here, they recognized our species as being related to their European beech back home and knew they typically grew on moist, well-drained slopes and rich bottomlands – perfect places to make their new farm fields. Many of our older and taller beeches, which can grow up to eighty feet, fell to their axes.
Bagworm An intriguing find on deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees during the winter months is the cocoon of the Bagworm moth. For you fly fishermen and women, it resembles a much larger 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch version of the camouflaged caddisfly case, except attached to tree branches instead of creek rocks!
Bagworm Moth Cocoon This species of caterpillar is a serious pest that can cause defoliation and death of shrubs and trees.
The cocoon pictured was located on a small Japanese maple and shows a hideaway covered with leaf stems and tiny branches looking like a little pinecone. The tiny, just-hatched caterpillars of this moth species will balloon out of the bag on silky cords and begin making their own protection in late May or early June, crawling along with just their heads and first pair of legs exposed. They will feed and expand the length and thickness of their bag by adding fresh green plant material near the head-end for about three months until they have matured.
The bags will look different depending on the host plant. At that time, the larvae pupate for 7 to 10 days. Females will never leave their bags because, as adults, they lack wings and legs. All they do before dying is develop from 300 to 1,000 eggs, laying them inside or retaining them in their bodies for overwintering. Adult male moths do have wings, and thither may they fly to female bags insuring the next generation (one per year in PA).
This species of caterpillar is a serious pest that can cause defoliation and death of shrubs and trees, depending on the severity of the infestation. It is best to detach found examples and place them in soapy water.