A Partnership is Born

It’s been 10 years since the Northcentral Stream Restoration Partnership was formed.  Driven by the motto, “Everyone does a little, so no one has to do a lot,” the Partnership was created to improve the water quality on agriculturally impaired streams in northcentral Pennsylvania.  Coordinated by NPC, and including state agencies (DEP & PFBC), county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, and willing landowners, the Partnership focused on 15 project sites across the region during that first construction season in 2009.  Since then, the partnership has worked on over 120 project sites and impacted 25 miles of stream. 

That’s 10 years of working together to improve the water quality for our communities, 10 years of recovering aquatic habitat, and 10 years of supporting PA’s working agricultural landscape.  For the partners, volunteers, and landowners that have seen or worked on a project site firsthand, you might also be thinking, “That’s A LOT of rocks, logs, rebar, and sweat equity!”

Delivering logs to a restoration site in Union County.

Here’s a quick recap of the problems the partnership is tackling, their goals, and the solutions they are implementing.

What’s the problem?
The vibrant farmlands that cover the countryside help make Northcentral PA such a desirable place to work, live and recreate.  During the settlement of the area, many of the trees throughout the watersheds were cleared for lumber then made way for crops, livestock, and homesteads.  The removal of the vegetation, the introduction of livestock, and increased stormwater runoff from pastures and hardened surfaces, whether compacted dirt, asphalt, or a roof; has led to the erosion of stream banks throughout the area.  Eroding stream banks are a direct source for sediment, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus to enter streams.  This sediment smothers aquatic life as it covers the stream’s substrate and impairs the overall stream health. 

Mud sills help stabilize the stream bank and provide fish habitat.

The Partnership’s Goals:
Reducing erosion and sedimentation into the region’s streams, is a goal of many local and state plans and initiatives working to improve the Chesapeake Bay.  In addition, the Partnership is working to:

  • Stabilize stream banks
  • Stabilize the riparian buffer
  • Increase filtration of run-off
  • Improve/create aquatic habitats
  • Support fish and aquatic life 

The Solution:
The partners use proven in-stream stabilization structures, such as log vanes and mudsills, to remove velocity and pressure from the stream banks.  They also implement Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs), such as walkways and fencing, to help reduce the impact livestock have on the streams by getting them out of the stream channel and back from the stream’s edge.  The type of structure used depends on the stream conditions, and takes into consideration how the water will react under normal flows and high water events.

Local university students help document the stream conditions.

Knowing the benefits:
Some restoration benefits happen instantly, such as the way the water flow responds to the new structures.  Others take time, as the vegetation grows creating a riparian buffer, soaking up excess nutrients and stabilizing the bank.  Macro-invertebrates and fish return to the water, finding habitat and renewed food sources.  Documenting the pre and post construction condition of the streams’ physical and biological conditions is a vital piece of the puzzle.  Aforementioned, the change and return to health is a gradual process, which is why NPC is extremely proud and thankful to our members for their support of the Partnership throughout the decade. 

As we continue to reflect on the past 10 years, we will be highlighting in our next blog these long-term signs of success at some of our earliest project sites in the Little Shamokin Creek Watershed.  And since the partnership wouldn’t be where it is today without the passionate people that had the foresight to take action 10 years ago, we’ll also be taking a moment to acknowledge the Little Shamokin Creek Watershed for their sustained efforts to help bring the watershed back to health in the area.  You can join us for this celebration at the upcoming Little Shamokin Creek Watershed Association’s book signing event for local author, Matt Miller, on Monday, September 30th at 6:30 PM.  Learn more about Matt’s book, “Fishing through the Apocalypse,” and his connection to the area.

August Observations: From Meteor Showers to Mushrooms…

Did anyone else blink and realize it’s August?!  What could easily be one of the busiest times of the year – from checking off those final summer projects to getting the kids ready to go back to school – August can certainly feel a little frantic at times.  The sense of summer ending is mixing with the anticipation of fall.

But wait, don’t rush it! 

August is the bridge between between Summer and Autumn – between how the year has been and how the year will end.” – @positivelypresent

Sometimes, we all just need a little reminder to slow down and enjoy the moment we’re in.  If you’re looking for some ideas of how to ground you to this beautiful time of year, try tapping into the power of observation. Go take a walk in the woods or stare at the night sky to see if you can spot any of these natural marvels that are unique to the summer wind down.

Jewelweed. Photo Credit: USDA
  • Early and mid-summer blooms are fading, so the hummingbird is searching for new sources of nectar.  Fortunately, jewelweed (also known as spotted touch-me-not) is in bloom and its flowers are the perfect shape for the hummingbird’s long beak! And of course the hummingbird isn’t just taking and not giving – it’s serves as one of the main pollinators of jewelweed.
  • The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most beloved meteor showers of the year, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where the shower peaks on warm summer nights. No matter where you live worldwide, the 2019 Perseid meteor shower will probably produce the greatest number of meteors on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13.
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.
Photo Credit: DNR
  • Some adult Monarch butterflies are taking wing, while their caterpillars are still feeding on the leaves of milkweed plants.   A female monarch will only lay her eggs on one of the many varieties of milkweed. Here in Pennsylvania, the native varieties include common milkweed, ornamental milkweed and swamp milkweed. Native milkweed species are the only plant these caterpillars will eat.
  • In white-tailed deer, testosterone is rising as the bucks prepare for mating season.  Their antlers are now hardened, and bucks are beginning to remove their antler velvet by rubbing against tree branches.
Photo Credit: Wildflower.org
  • On the forest floor, the red berries of the jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) are easily seen.  These showy, bright red berries have the consistency of a ripe tomato, and are an attractive food source for birds such as thrushes, rodents, and other small mammals.
  • Box turtle eggs are hatching!  The shells of the baby box turtle are only about the size of a quarter.  Although, they are predominantly terrestrial and live in a variety of vegetative areas, including shrubby grasslands, marshy meadows, open woodlands and field forest edges. They are often found near streams or ponds, or areas that have experienced heavy rainfall.
Eastern box turtle.
Photo Credit: ChesapeakeBay.net
Chicken-of-the-woods. Photo Credit: Cornell University
  • In late August, Chicken-of-the-woods, (Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as sulfur shelf mushroom, fruits on the decaying tree stumps or even on the trunks of trees.  They are bright orange above and bright yellow underside, growing in a shelf-like form, often in large clumps. It picked up its common name, because when foraged and cooked correctly, it supposedly tastes like chicken!

I hope these little natural nuggets of information inspire you to get outside, explore, and connect with the season of now.

Lessons Learned in Stream Restoration

By: Nate Stephens, NPC 2019 Summer Intern

Montour and Northumberland County conservation district interns work alongside Nate planting live stakes.

Interning with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy has given me the opportunity to gain valuable work experience within the environmental field. This experience has allowed me to develop my young career as I take the next step into the professional world. Currently, a senior at Bloomsburg University, majoring in Environmental, Geographical, Geological Sciences (or EGGS for short), I have been able to expand upon my education by applying it in the field, observing the roles of different agencies and departments, and networking with numerous professionals. Most of the work I have completed throughout the summer has been with the partnership on stream restoration projects and electrofishing.

From late May to the beginning of July, I worked with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Union County Conservation District, and Department of Environmental Protection employees on stream restoration projects. During this time, we were able to complete the John Nolt property, the Griffith property, and the Sabo property.

On the job, stabilizing a streambank in Union County.

Each project was unique for work it needed; however, the goal always remained the same. Protect the toe of the slope from erosion and allow the stream easy access to flood plain. By installing the log structures, I got a first-hand experience on how you accomplish the first of these two goals. Certain structures kick water back into the main channel of the stream, while others protect the bank from the direct flow. Some of the structures, like a modified mudsill, serve a dual purpose. They absorb the energy from the current around bends, protecting the bank, as well as provide overhead cover, creating fish habitat. To accomplish the second goal, grading the stream bank is required. This means having an excavator move soil on the bank in a manner where water can go out instead of up during high flows. By giving water immediate access to flood plain, you slow down the velocity, which will limit the amount of erosion that can occur. After we have finished grading a section of stream bank, we will plant a riparian buffer. The roots from the riparian buffer stabilize the soil, which adds another preventative measure to limit erosion. Because of this experience, I learned that both the log structures and grading are equally important. To fully mitigate an impaired stream both aspects of the stream restoration process need to occur.

As I mentioned before, certain log structures create fish habitat. One of the opportunities that NPC offered was electrofishing previously completed projects. I worked with Susquehanna University collecting data on species population and biodiversity. We electro fished two previous projects where we found multiple brown trout. This was cool to experience because these were impaired streams where trout were not found prior to the completion of these projects. Trout are an indicator species for high water quality. To have wild trout, you must have cold sediment free water, lot of dissolved oxygen, and ample overhead cover. The work the NPC and their partnership have done show that stream restoration projects are worth the time and money.

Nate and team electrofishing sites where past streambank stabilization work was done. They re-visited sites to track the changes in aquatic habitat by looking at the fish and macroinvertebrates in the stream.

I am thankful for the opportunities and experiences so far this summer and look forward to the remainder of my internship with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy. Working with the different organizations throughout the summer has made me realize I would like to pursue a career with a county conservation district. This internship has allowed me to gain valuable work experience and network with professionals in that field.

Introducing the Avis Canoe Launch!

Sometimes you have to buy a property people think is already public and actually make it public.

Thanks to support from our members and extra help from George and Shirley Durrwachter that just happened. For years, people have used a property on the Avis side of the Route 150 bridge over Pine Creek to get on and off the Creek in kayaks, canoes, and tubes. They have fished here, swam here, and even sat in a chair while the Creek flowed over their feet and legs.

Everyone seems to think the Bureau of Forestry owns the property.

They don’t.

Well, not yet.

NPC bought the property Friday, June 28, 2019 and will be conveying it to the Bureau of Forestry in the next year, then it WILL be a public property, owned by the Bureau of Forestry and managed as part of the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Already a popular access point for the community & visitors, the Avis Canoe Launch will now remain open to the public forever!

The property was owned by an individual who had development plans for the property. However, when those plans fell through the owner looked to selling the property.  When a local resident learned of the potential sale, he became concerned that the public might lose access to the Creek during the sale. This prompted him to reach out to the Tiadaghton State Forest District Forester.

The Bureau of Forestry started working with the landowner to buy the property. While the landowner was agreeable to selling the property, he couldn’t wait as long as the Bureau of Forestry would need for their acquisition process. As a state agency, when the Bureau buys a property there are a variety of other Departments that need to review documents and approve the transaction.

The Bureau of Forestry asked NPC to buy the property and then work through the Bureau’s process to sell the property to the Bureau.

George and Shirley Durrwacther donated the funds for the purchase price of the property. George grew up on Pine Creek. Fishing, swimming, and floating. He and Shirley recognize the recreational value the Creek provides for residents and visitors alike and wanted to help keep access in place for people to use and enjoy the Creek.

Ariel view of the purchased parcel

NPC’s members and donors provided other resources needed to get the project started. A sales agreement was drafted; the DEP files for Pine Creek Township, Clinton County were reviewed; and the title search started.

That title search found a 1947 deed that referenced a “frame gasoline station.”

Those three words carry a lot of weight with them. A geologist was hired to prepare a Phase I environmental review. His review was complete, but there weren’t any records showing storage tanks being removed from the property. Pennsylvania didn’t keep records on underground storage tanks until the 1980s.

The Clinton County Historical Society looked to see if the Sanborn maps for Avis or Jersey Shore showed the area. The Sanborn Map Company published very detailed maps for fire insurance companies through the 1970s. The maps detail the buildings in over 12,000 towns and cities in the United States. There wasn’t a Sanborn map that showed the area of this property.

A group of “local guys” who meet for coffee a couple mornings a week were asked if they remembered anything about the property. They remembered the old ice plant, and the gas station up the road, but none of them remembered a gas station on this property. Although, they did appreciate being asked and having something new to talk about for a couple of days.

Without reports or documentation that the tanks were gone, additional steps were needed. Soil sampling and ground penetrating radar were done. The soil samples were all okay. NPC shared the report with two geologists who read the report and agreed it looked good.

The ground penetrating radar was the next step. It was a much shorter process than the soil sampling. When he was done and packing up his equipment Josh, the technician who did the ground penetrating radar said, “There are no big metal things underground.” The official report was longer, but had the same message.

With those steps complete, a closing could be scheduled. The documents were signed without a hitch. Staff are working to get signs made with the property’s 911 address and have reached out to local emergency services to determine who needs keys to the existing gate on the property.

Now the process of selling the property to the Bureau of Forestry can begin. Documents are being drafted and reviewed. Reports are being shared and updated. Keep an eye out in future newsletters for more information about the project and updates on when it will become part of the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Celebrating Turtle Creek

“Everyone does a little, so no one has to do it all.”

Turtle Creek Partnership motto

A partnership led by NPC and including state agencies, county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, and willing landowners joined forces to tackle the challenge of bringing Turtle Creek back to health while maintaining a working agricultural landscape. Together, we’ve focused a sustained investment on this waterway as part of a larger effort within Pennsylvania’s North-Central region. What we’ve learned can help other Pennsylvanians improve their local waterways too!

Click the image to learn more about the Turtle Creek story.

As a member of NPC you are playing a major part in the efforts to provide clean, quality water to our communities.  We hope you are as proud of this shared success as we are!

Not already a NPC member? Join us today!

The Return of the Eels

Say ‘Hello’ to the American eel! What would your gut reaction be to coming across this little guy in your local stream?  It may startle some (and perhaps even elicit an “Eek!”), but when the Stream Restoration Team found this eel during the Conley Run project in Union County last week it brought about a collective “Woo Hoo!”.  Here’s why this was an exciting and significant find for the team:

Eels once were very common in the Susquehanna River basin, but dam construction in the early 1900s ended the eel’s ability to migrate to the Atlantic Ocean as part of their life cycle.  It wasn’t just the eels’ life cycle that was disrupted by those dams. Several species of freshwater mussels rely on eels to serve as a host for the mussels’ young. Without the eels to host the young, the mussels can’t reproduce. A single mussel can filter up to 24 gallons of water a day. That’s a lot of sediment removal and a lot cleaner streams and creeks.  So, back in 2009, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began stocking eels in Buffalo Creek and Pine Creek to help replenish the population.   

This eel shows that not only are the eels growing (when they are released they are only a couple of inches long), but they are also moving throughout Buffalo Creek to its tributaries which will help mussel populations throughout the watershed. 

More eels = More mussels = Cleaner water! 

Now, doesn’t that make you want to say “Woo Hoo” too?!

*Fun Fact about the American eel:
The maximum recorded age for an American eel is a whopping 43 years!

Listen to the Bees

My family and I were spending our Saturday morning outside in the garden a few weeks ago, when something happened that stopped my always-on-the-go 2 ½ year-old in his tracks.  Our weeping cherry tree had just blossomed and its drooping branches had formed a delicate canopy of soft white flowers.  My curious toddler dashed under the branches into his “cave” then came to a quick halt and breathlessly called out to me, “Mommy, listen to the bees.”

I set down my trowel, slipped in under the canopy, and was treated to the loud hum of collective buzzing.  We stood there and watched in awe as the honeybees darted back and forth from blossom to blossom working their magic.

This magic, so to say, is actually the act of pollination.  In order for plants to make seeds to reproduce, they need pollen to encounter a part of the plant called the pistil, both of which are located in flowers.  The cherry tree’s showy blossoms attract the honeybee with the promise of sweet nectar.  When the bees come into contact with the flower, they get some of the pollen on their bodies, which they then carry to other flowers.  Once this happens, the plant can produce a seed that will either be eaten by an animal or drop to the ground with the potential to sprout into a new tree. 

This small, simple act from the honeybees mesmerized my son for quite a while, and steered my thoughts towards where would we be without pollinators?  Here’s some quick facts* to be(e) aware of:

  • Bees pollinate as many as 170,000 species of plants.
  • Pollinators affect 35% of global agricultural land, supporting production of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide.
  • Every third spoonful of food is dependent on pollination.
  • About 40% of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – are facing extinction.

The bottom line is people need bees, and right now, bees (and other pollinators) need our help!  This week, on 5/20/19, we observed World Bee Day to help raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development.  There are a lot things you can do to help protect our pollinators.  So whenever you’re out and about next and hear that familiar buzz, I hope you take a moment to really stop and listen to the bees. 

*Data Source:  Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food

Wild about Wildflowers

Next week kicks off National Wildflower Week.  Always the first full week of May, National Wildflower Week commemorates the colorful blossoms that bring our landscapes to life. Whether they are on mountainsides, pastures or our own back yards, wildflowers create habitat, help conserve water and reduce erosion.

Wildflowers in bloom at NPC conserved lands this month, include Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule Ait.)

The month of May is a very exciting time of transition in the plant kingdom.  Look around and you’ll see black cherry trees, sassafras, and red oaks flowering.  Trees leaf out during the first half of May in most of Pennsylvania, often prompted by a good rain that follows warm days.  Wind pollinated tree species produce pollen either just before or during leaf-out, so that the pollen is blown to the flowers without interference from the leaves.  As the trees leaf-out, the ephemeral woodland wildflowers begin to wane. Late-spring woodland wildflowers blooming now include mayapples, trillium, and yellow and pink lady’s slippers.  As they bloom, peak, and wane all around us, it’s hard not to go a little “wild” about wildflowers!     

Lady Bird Johnson once said “native plants give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.” The former first lady had a passion for native plants and the value they serve in restoring and creating sustainable, beautiful landscapes. 

Mountain laurel
(Kalmia latifolia)

One native wildflower that is sure to let you know you’re at home in Pennsylvania, is our state flower, the Mountain Laurel.  Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) was adopted as the official state flower in 1933.  This broadleaf evergreen is usually a 12-20 ft. shrub, but is occasionally taller and single-trunked, attaining small tree stature. Each spring and early summer, the woods and mountainsides of Pennsylvania come alive, as mountain laurel clusters of delicate blooms open in umbrella-like fashion in red, pink or white.

Fun Fact:  Native American people fashioned spoons out of the bark of the mountain laurel, which they referred to as “spoonwood.”

For more information on Pennsylvania native wildflowers, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center.

Talkin’ Trout Habitat

Just as they differ in appearance, each of our Pennsylvania trout species has slight variations in their preferred habitat. 

Brook trout live naturally in small, cold, clean streams. They also adapt to ponds and lakes, as well as instream beaver ponds. Of all the members of the char family, brook trout adapt most easily to their environment and can endure the widest range of conditions.  They will tolerate relatively acidic waters, but not temperatures much over 65 degrees.

Brown trout may be found in all of the state’s watersheds, from limestone spring creeks, infertile headwaters and swampy outflows to suitable habitat in the larger rivers and reservoir tailwaters.  A brown trout’s optimum water temperature range is 50 to 60 degrees, although it can tolerate water temperatures in the low 70s.  Like brook trout, they are also somewhat tolerant of acidity.

Rainbow trout are considered fastwater fish, preferring the swift runs and riffle areas of streams. They may live in small creeks, as well as suitable spots in large rivers, the tailwaters of dams, and in lakes and reservoirs. Their optimum water temperature is about 55 degrees. Although they do best when the water is under 70 degrees, they can withstand temperatures into the 70s if there is plenty of oxygen and a cool, shady place to which they can retreat. Rainbows are the trout least tolerant of acidity. They do best in slightly alkaline waters.

Despite their differences, all trout need just a few basic things in their habitat to survive:  cold water, clean water, food to eat, places to hide from predators, and clean gravel to lay their eggs in.  These things may sound simple, but factors such as streambank erosion can have major negative impact.  Eroding streambanks and increasing sedimentation into the region’s streams can smother aquatic life as it covers the stream’s substrate. 

For the past decade, NPC has been a part of the Northcentral Stream Restoration Partnership, working together to decrease erosion and sedimentation, improve water quality for the public, and increase aquatic habitat on agriculturally impaired streams in northcentral Pennsylvania.  The partnership is comprised of NPC, PA Department of Environmental Protection, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and the County Conservation Districts. To date, we have worked at over 140 sites installing habitat structures and are continuing to see steady improvements to overall stream quality!

Talkin’ Trout

Pennsylvania is home to some of the best trout fishing in the world!  Excited anglers from across the state will soon gear up to fish their favorite spots on Saturday, April 13, during the traditional statewide opening day of trout season.  In celebration of this long awaited highlight of spring, we’ll be talking trout all month long.

Three different trout species can be found in PA waters – Brook, Brown, and Rainbow. Let’s start by getting to know each of them a little better.

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

The brook trout is Pennsylvania’s official state fish. It is technically a type of char belonging to the salmon family, Salmonidae.  The brook trout—also called the speckled trout—is a beautifully colored fish with yellow spots over an olive-green back. The spots along the trout’s back are stretched and almost wormlike in shape. Along its sides, the brook trout’s color transitions from olive to orange or red, with scattered red spots bordered by pale blue. Its lower fins are orange or red, each with a white streak and a black streak, and its underside is a milky white. A brook trout usually reaches 9 to 10 inches in length.

They are often found in clean, cool mountain streams and are most active around dawn and dusk. During the day, brook trout may retreat to deeper waters.

These fish are extremely opportunistic and eat a variety of insects, often preferring adult and nymph forms of aquatic insects. They will also eat beetles, ants, and small fish when they are available.

Fun Fact:  The biggest Brook Trout of state record, weighing in at a whopping 7lbs, was caught right here in North Central Pennsylvania, at Fishing Creek in Clinton County!

Brown Trout
(Salmo trutta)

The brown trout is not a native Pennsylvanian, although it is now naturalized and widespread here in the wild.  Brown trout are brownish in overall tone. The back and upper sides are dark-brown to gray-brown, with yellow-brown to silvery lower sides. Large, dark spots are outlined with pale halos on the sides, the back and dorsal fin, with reddish-orange or yellow spots scattered on the sides. The fins are clear, yellow-brown, and unmarked.  Wild Brown Trout in infertile streams may grow only slightly larger than the Brook Trout there. But in more fertile streams Brown Trout that weigh a pound are common. A Brown Trout over 10 pounds is a trophy. Brown Trout may exceed 30 inches in length. The state record is more than 19 pounds.

They may be found in all of the state’s watersheds, from limestone spring creeks, infertile headwaters and swampy outflows to suitable habitat in the larger rivers and reservoir tailwaters.

These fish eat aquatic and terrestrial insects, crayfish and other crustaceans, and especially fish. The big ones may also eat small mammals (like mice), salamanders, frogs and turtles. Large Browns feed mainly at night, especially during the summer.

Rainbow Trout
(Oncorhynchus mykiss)

The rainbow trout is native only to the rivers and lakes of North America, west of the Rocky Mountains, but was introduced to PA at the turn of the century.  Rainbow trout are gorgeous fish, with coloring and patterns that vary widely depending on habitat, age, and spawning condition. They are torpedo-shaped and generally blue-green or yellow-green in color with a pink streak along their sides, white underbelly, and small black spots on their back and fins.  They average about 20 to 30 inches long and around 8 pounds.  The state record is 20 pounds.

They prefer cool, clear rivers, streams, and lakes, though some will leave their freshwater homes and follow a river out to the sea. These migratory adults, called steelheads because they acquire more silvery markings, will spend several years in the ocean, but must return to the stream of their birth to spawn.

Rainbow trout survive on insects, crustaceans, and small fish.