Survey Work at Plunketts Creek

Some survey work was done last week at State Game Lands 134 (along Plunketts Creek in Lycoming County) to get information on the elevation at the site with the berm removed. As you may recall NPC partnered with the PA Game Commission, the 333rd US Army Reserve Engineering Unit, and numerous other groups to reconnect Plunketts Creek to its floodplain by removing an earthern berm along the Creek.

Mark and Trent with BluAcres found the control point from the survey work during the design phase and set up the equipment.

The yellow spot on the ground is a piece of rebar with a cap on it. This was set as a control point the first time they went out and will be used at every subsequent visit.

Trent found the previous survey points and collected data at those points.

Trent has a map of the previous points in his left hand and the survey unit in his right hand. Surveying is a lot different than it used to be.

Trent even humored me and held up the staff so the tip was “sitting” on what would have been the top of the berm.

The bottom of the staff is “sitting” on top of the berm. So basically, Trent would be up to his neck in dirt if the berm were still there. (Trent was so accomodating in part because he is a graduation of Lycoming College and worked summers for the Clean Water Institute at the College. Dr. Zimmerman generall has the CWI-ers spend at least a day on a project of the northcentral stream partnership.)

They’ll download the data. There will be some computer magic and then there will be a pretty new map. This work is to help the agencies who issued permits that the work resulted in the correct grade – the stream is reconnected to its floodplain.

Underfoot: Turkey Tails

By Susan Sprout

Mr. Crabapple, a stump in our backyard, has grown a braid!

OK, that’s what I call it. Normal folks would probably call it shelf fungi.

Turkey Tails is their common name, reflecting the wonderful concentric color zones of tan, brown, gray and cinnamon that look like fanned turkey tails. These are one of the most frequent types of fungi found in our woods and throughout the world.

Turkey Tail Fungi

Until the 1960’s, fungi were categorized as plants. We now know, from biochemical and DNA studies, they are more closely related to animals than plants and are placed in a separate kingdom which includes yeasts, molds, mushrooms, and mildews.

Turkey Tails are saprobes, decomposers of dead hardwood logs and stumps. I see them all the time when I hike. Ah well, I actually can’t see the fungi’s main body, the mycelium, made up of microscopic thread-like hyphae, because they live deep inside what they are recycling – secreting digestive enzymes to break down the wood molecules and absorb them as building blocks in order to keep growing. What I do see are the fruit bodies formed to make and release their reproductive spores.

The white underside of the Turkey Tail is covered with very tiny holes from which the white spores are released, usually in fall or winter. The thin, flexible “shelves” can grow up to four inches in diameter and may overlap in layers as their fruit bodies grow.

I am always amazed by their soft, velvety exterior when I check them under a magnifier. Mr. Crabapple thinks they look cool! Little does he know…

Cancelled – Celebrate 30+1 Years of Conservation!

2020 was NPC’s 30th anniversary, but we couldn’t celebrate in person. We re-grouped. Join in celebrating NPC’s 30+1 Anniversary!

September 15, 2021
5pm cash bar
6pm dinner
Herman & Luther’s

(787 State Route 87, Montoursville, PA)
Cocktail hour, live music, and a buffet style dinner.
Cost is $45 per person with reservations due by September 7, 2021

Thank you to our sponsors:
Kase Law
Dwight Lewis Lumber Co., Inc.
Evergreen Wealth Solutions
McCormick Law Firm
Pennsylvania American Water
Wayne Township Landfill
Woodlands Bank

Underfoot: Swamp Dewberry

By Susan Sprout

The trailing, woody stems of this native plant like to grow sprawled out across my favorite bog. Hiking in is like walking on a thick carpet.

Their shiny green leaves of three won’t raise welts though to some folks, they may resemble poison ivy.

Swamp Dewberry

Swamp Dewberry or Bristly Dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a member of the Rose Family – like the other berries we love to eat during the summer. Unfortunately, the ripe fruit of Dewberry doesn’t taste that great to humans. Song birds, game birds, other mammals, yes. To us, the taste is quite sour.

The small, white, five-petaled flowers have finished blooming by now, and the ones pollinated by small bees and flies have grown into small, individual druplets that are clumped together to form the aggregate fruits we call Dewberries! They start out white, then green, then red and finally purplish-black when totally ripe. You may find all of these colors at one time or another on their slender and bristly red twigs.

Look for swamp Dewberries growing where the soil is acid and damp and the sunlight is dappled. Their tendency to form dense thickets also provides nesting habitat and protective cover for birds and smaller animals. The favor is returned when seeds of the fruits are dispersed into new areas.

Check out Swamp Dewberry’s bristly stem!

Berm Removal Along Plunketts Creek Wraps Up

The 1st Platoon of the 333rd Engineering Company of the US Army Reserves pulled out of Proctor Saturday morning, August 21, 2021 after nearly 3 weeks of work. The 30 soldiers worked on their equipment skills, teamwork, and project management while removing an earthen berm along Plunketts Creek at State Game Lands 134.

Thank you to the Plunketts Creek Township Volunteer Fire Company for allowing equipment to be staged at the fire station the night before the group pulled out.

The berm was built to protect the site when it was a propagation farm for the PA Game Commission raising turkeys then pheasants. Since the farm is no longer being used in that way, the berm could be removed to allow the stream access to its floodplain. This will provide ecological benefits and community benefits by reducing flood impacts.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s hydroseeder made it much easier to get seed on the ground. The seed is mixed with a mulch and water then sprayed out through a hose.

Over the course of the 3 weeks the soldiers worked to pull apart the berm, haul some of the material to a nearby dirt and gravel road project on State Game Lands, create small stockpiles, grade the area to allow for connection between the stream and its floodplain, and seed the area and install jute matting (a coconut fiber grid material). Additionally, they improved their skills in operating the heavy equipment, had training with night vision goggles, practiced building earthen structures that are used to help tanks absorb impacts (a tank defilade), and worked as a team. Many of the soldiers are new to the platoon and this was the first summer training they had attended with the group.

1SG Bleiler explains the training aspects of the project to members of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association and Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club.

Over the course of the project partners such as the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association, Loyalsock Creek Men’s Club, and American Legion Post 104 (the Eugene Grafius Post in Montoursville) toured the site to see how the project was progressing and meet the onsite leadership implementing the project. There was a common comment heard during each tour, “that’s a lot of dirt.”

SFC Schoch with the Officers from American Legion Post 104, Eugene Grafius Post, in Montoursville. The Legion provided funding to help support the soldiers while they were on site. Thanks to the Legion and other donors, we were able to buy meals locally so there wasn’t a huge need for the soldiers to eat MREs.

It was a lot of dirt, but the soldiers got the job done even with the rainy weather that changed site conditions and created some challenges. After one rain and wind storm, the soldiers removed 30 trees from local roadways to keep local traffic moving and allow the soldiers hauling material to the Camp Mountain Road/Huckle Run site to safely return to the main base.

Over the next several weeks the seed the soldiers spread will germinate and the Pennsylvania Game Commission will work to close out the permits needed for the work. The blue silt sock the soldiers installed on their first day will stay in place until the permits are released.

Before – note the postion of the shrub at the edge of the stream, and the trees in the backbround.
After – again note the postion of the shrub at the edge of the stream, and the trees in the backbround.

Underfoot: Spotted Spurge

By Susan Sprout

For those of you who do your walking in town, here’s a plant you may have seen growing from pavement cracks and then sprawling out like a mat over the sidewalk. It is Spotted Spurge, Chamaesyce maculata, a member of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge Family.

This interesting little plant is a native annual that blooms from May to October. Its paired, dark green leaves are slightly toothed and hairy. They stand out against the slender, red stem which is also covered with fine hairs. On closer examination, you may find a reddish blotch on each leaf.

Spotted Spurge surging from between two sidewalk blocks.

Be careful if you pull off a piece of the plant to look at – the milky latex that seeps out of the torn stem is a caustic skin irritant. Yes, I itched from it because I placed it on the desk where I do research and write. Yes, before I did the research and found out about the itchy juice.

Male and female flowers grow cupped in structures called cyathias that are produced in the leaf forks. You really need a magnifier to see their white or pinkish petal-like appendages and the hairy three-lobed capsule that the pollinated female flower develops. Each valve of the capsule contains a single seed that is ridged and pitted.

A close up of Spotted Spurge

You may see resident flocks of Mourning Doves pecking at the plants. These seeds are hydrophilic, by the way. When wet, they can adhere to surfaces – like shoes of passers-by. Spotted Spurge is known in all of the states except Alaska. It has even been introduced to Hawaii.

333rd Makes Progress at Plunketts Creek

The 333rd Army Reserve Engineering Company has been busy over the last 2 weeks at Plunketts Creek. The soldiers are working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy on a project to reconnect Plunketts Creek to its floodplain at State Game Lands 134. An earthen berm was used in the past at the site to protect the birds being raised by the Game Commission when the site was a propagation farm.

After a few equipment issues, the soldiers got underway and have the berm removed at the farm site. They are working on the final grade and expect to begin hydroseeding (spraying a mix of seed, mulch, and water instead of spreading seed by hand and then covering with hay or straw) and installing the jute mat (it looks like a grid of coconut fiber twine and adds stabilization until the seeds germinate and grasses and flowers start to grow) in the next couple of days.

The first day on site had a few bumps

The material from the berm is going one of two places. Some of the material is being hauled by the soldiers up to a road project on Camp Mountain Road. Material will also be stockpiled on the farm site for future by the Game Commission.

Camp Mountain Road has become entrenched, the driving surface of the road is lower than the berm along the side. On dirt and gravel roads it’s especially important to let rain and snow melt drain off the road not run down the road. As water runs down the road it picks up more sediment. The sediment can wash into streams resulting in water quality problems. By bringing the driving surface back up and adding drainage the road will have less impacts on water quality and people using the road will have a smoother trip.

This photo shows how the fill material in helping to raise the road surface.

The material being stockpiled on site will be out of the floodway. It will also be hydroseeded and vegetation will be allowed to grow on it to keep the dirt from washing off. The Game Commission can use this material on future road improvement projects in the area.

Rainstorms on Thursday, August 12, brought damaging winds to the area. Trees were down on the roads and blocking neighbors’ driveways.  The soldiers who were at the farm recognized the downed trees would prevent the soldiers hauling material and those at the road site from returning to the farm site. They quickly got their equipment organized and began removing trees from the road and opened driveways in the immediate area. The Sergeant reported they removed 30 trees.

The rain and wind brought a halt to the hauling.

Residents in the area commented, “The Army was wonderful to the community of Proctor…They didn’t even blink an eye and were out helping clear the roadways and even helping residents clear trees!”

While the rain provided an opportunity for the soldiers to work on different skills than they had been and allowed them to practice a quick pivot in mission, it also made things too wet to haul material to the road site for the rest of the day. The soldiers are working with the wet conditions and using it as an opportunity to train some of the newer soldiers on how changing site conditions impact operations.

On Friday, August 13 Lieutenant Colonel Reuben Trant visited the site to review the work and gain a better understanding of the training underway. The project is being undertaken through Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program. The program is designed to assist local communities with improvement projects while also providing the military with training opportunities that build their skills and ready them for deployment.

left to right – LTC Reuben Trant, 1SG Brandon Bleiler, Capt. Michael Stauffer, SFC Josh Schoch

Lieutenant Colonel Trant was impressed with both the amount of work the soldiers had done and the amount of training and operating hours the soldiers were gaining. (He also commented several times how beautiful the area is)

The Lieutenant Colonel noted that IRT projects are a win-win. The host community and project partners have a project completed and the soldiers get training time.

The soldiers will continue working for the upcoming week. They will be pulling out on Saturday, August 21 to return to Reading, PA.

Underfoot: Steeplebush

By Susan Sprout

Last week you saw a white steeple, the bloom of a Ural False Spiraea. This week, here are the lovely pink steeples of a TRUE spiraea – Steeplebush or Spiraea tomentosa

This woody shrub, a member of the Rose Family, is a native perennial ranging from Canada to North Carolina.  Look for it in sunny wet meadows, moist old fields, and pastures. The plant pictured was growing in an acid bog, carpeted with mosses and low blueberries, within a broad area circled by hemlocks and black spruces – and way off the beaten path. Immediately the bright pink blossoms spiking upward caught my eye as I shouldered my way through the dimness of the low evergreen branches and out into the open. Wow…took my breath away…the flower clusters ruled the green of everything else.

This is not a tall plant – two to four feet – with short-stemmed leaves, oval and toothed, dark green, and leathery, arranged alternately on the tough stems. They usually grow unbranched and are crowned with terminal clusters made up of tiny, five-petaled flowers that open from the top down. The fruit is found in five tiny brown pods, each with a single seed that will drop when the dry pods split open.

Tomentosa, a part of its scientific name, refers to the matted hairs found at different places on the plant – under leaves, on stems, on fruit pods, and especially on first year stems.

As you check out Steeplebush in your field guides, don’t be misled by different plants that have the same common names. This one is also known as Meadowsweet and Hardhack. I suspect the later refers to the tough stems farmers dealt with when cutting them out of their pastures – to no avail!

Steeplebush or Spiraea tomentosa


By Susan Sprout

It is TRUE – this False Spiraea came to us from the Ural Mountains of West Central Russia, a particular range that marks part of the boundary between Europe and Asia.

It is TRUE that this plant is False Spiraea. True Spiraea plants have toothed single leaves up to two and one half inches long on their plant stems. False Spiraea has leaves that are at least a foot long, made up of thirteen to twenty-one toothed leaflets that each grow to four inches long.

This long compound leaf is made up of 21 leaflets!

It is TRUE that the leaves of False Spiraea are very similar to the long feather-shaped or pinnately compound leaves of American Mountain Ash, (Sorbus americanum), a native tree that can grow to thirty feet tall. Consequently, its scientific name, Sorbaria sorbifolium, means it has leaves like Sorbus. Both are members of the Rose Family.

It is TRUE that False Spiraea , a perennial growing to eight feet in height, can and does spread aggressively sideways in loose soil.  This can be a positive quality because it helps control erosion on banks and slopes likely to get washed away. I found Ural False Spiraea on Dunwoody Road driving along Bear Creek. It has its work cut out for it, as this road has been washed out quite a few times! What caught my eye were the lovely four to ten inch tall, steeple-shaped clusters of tiny, white flowers.  They form on the ends of new wood in early summer and leave dry, brown steeples when the blooming is finished.

The White Steeple blossom of Ural False Spiraea

Underfoot: Smooth Rock Tripe

By Susan Sprout

I like lichens- that’s what Smooth Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) is – an amazing example of mutualism between a species of fungus and a species of algae or cyanobacteria.

Smooth Rock Tripe

This relationship creates fascinating possibilities for both organisms! 

Fungus is the bulk of a vegetative body that provides shape, form and protection from total desiccation, while it receives nutrients in the form of sugars  photosynthetically created by the algae or cyanobacteria layered inside. This is a win-win arrangement that allows them both to occupy extremely adverse environmental habitats, like Arctica, Antarctica, and deserts where they grow on many surfaces.

I found a lot of it growing on the rocks at Canyon Vista. Smooth Rock Tripe is one kind of leafy lichen that grows from a single attachment at its center, like a navel. It has a disc-shaped thin body called a thallus that is gray to reddish-brown to greenish when wet on top, but black and bumpy underneath.  It may grow to the size of a dinner plate under optimal conditions, but it will take decades at a growth rate of 2 to 5 millimeters a year, less than a quarter of an inch!

Stories tell of soldiers at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 – 1778  and various explorers, trappers, and adventurers having been saved from starvation by eating rock tripe, a practice probably handed down from Native Americans. Presoaking to remove bitterness and boiling for hours are said to soften its leather-like texture into softer, edible protein that contains one-third more calories than an equal amount of cornflakes. I’ll take the cornflakes. I like lichens a lot – and am hoping I won’t be required to eat any of them!