Rivers Month: Celebrate & Conserve PA’s Waters

With the official start of summer just around the corner, heat waves already upon us, and the end of the school year, many Pennsylvanians turn to their local waterways to cool off and have fun throughout the season.  That’s why the month of June is also such a fitting time to celebrate Rivers Month in the commonwealth.  Rivers Month is an opportunity to celebrate our river resources, consider the importance those resources have on our everyday lives, and acknowledge what we can do to help conserve those resources for generations to come.

Creating and Enhancing Access to our Waterways

Pennsylvania is home to 86,000 miles of rivers, streams, and creeks (second in the United States only to Alaska!), so there is certainly a lot to celebrate!  From boating and paddling to swimming, fishing, and tubing – whatever your preferred way to enjoy the water is – chances are there’s a prime spot to do it right here in our Northcentral haven of the state!  For over 3 decades, NPC members have been helping to make easier access for these recreational opportunities.  Here are just a few!

Baker Run

The conservation of the Baker Run property allowed for the creation of a new public access canoe/kayak launch site to the West Branch Susquehanna River. Baker Run is a tributary to the Susquehanna River, between Lock Haven and Renovo. The section of the West Branch Susquehanna from the PA Fish and Boat Commission access at Hyner, downstream to the access in Woodward Township’s Park (on the North Side of the Jay Street Bridge at Lock Haven) is about twenty-one river-miles long – a pretty lengthy paddle for most! The conservation of this land and installation of the launch between the two points helped eliminate the “recreation barrier”, creating opportunity for more people to enjoy the river.

Baker Run Canoe Launch
Byers Island & Harrigan Island

NPC helped conserve the Byers Island archipelago back in 2006. The islands are now part of Weiser State Forest. Paddlers can overnight on the islands at three primitive campsites maintained by the Susquehanna River Trail Association.  Find the Camp Sites Map (sites 120b, 120a, 121 for Byers Island).

Harrigan Island is in the Susquehanna River near Athens.  The original owners of the island encouraged canoe travelers to camp on the island.  To help ensure that others could enjoy this same simple pleasure for years to come, they worked with the NPC to permanently conserve the land.  Today, Harrigan Island is part of the Loyalsock State Forest.

Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access

For years, people had used this property on the Avis side of the Route 150 bridge over Pine Creek to paddle, fish, swim, and cool off all summer long. So, when the property, previously under private ownership, came up for sale in 2019, NPC stepped in to help in ensure that this favored, local watering hole remained available for the public to enjoy for generations to come!

Most recently, the site was officially named the Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access (formerly referred to as the Avis Canoe Launch), as a nod to the large grist and saw mills that used to occupy the area, manufacturing boards, shingles, laths, palings, among other materials, that helped develop the northcentral PA region.

Pine Creek flows into the West Branch Susquehanna River. Consider enjoying this section of the river this summer by paddling from the Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access to the Jersey Shore River Access!

The newly installed parking area and access improvements at the Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access.

Conserving the Health of our Rivers

Beyond recreation, healthy rivers provide habitat, drinking water, replenish groundwater, help moderate floods and droughts, support forest health, and more!

As part of the Northcentral Stream Partnership, NPC is helping to conserve and strengthen the health of our rivers by stabilizing eroding streambanks and improving aquatic habitat on agriculturally impaired streams across the region.  The Partnership’s sustained efforts to bring the waterways of Northcentral PA back to health while maintaining a working agricultural landscape is currently being used as a model to help improve water quality throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay.

You can help support the conservation and health of our rivers by donating to NPC, today!

Underfoot: Wild Sarsaparilla

By: Susan Sprout

Once I found and identified Wild Sarsaparilla, Aralia nudicaulis, it seemed to be everywhere, dancing back through the understory as far as I could see! So common, in fact, that in some environments, it may serve as an indicator species for its native Northern Hardwood Forests of Oak and Hickory, Beech and Maple.

Wild Sarsaparilla is lightly-shaded open woods.

In early spring, this plant shoots straight up from its woody, underground rhizome a smooth stalk or peduncle, with a curled bronze leaf that unfurls, greener and pinnately compound, having three smaller stems each with from three to seven tiny-toothed leaflets. Next, up comes another smooth stalk carrying just the flowers, usually three globe-shaped constellations of twenty to forty greenish-white five-petaled flowers that mostly stay hidden beneath the leaf.

Wild Sarsaparilla spring leaves with flowers heads

The fleshy fruits that appear after pollination ripen to a rich deep purple, almost black during the fall. Birds like grouse and thrushes eat the berries, as well as foxes and chipmunks. Deer browse the leaves. Native Americans used the plant for food, tea and medicine, poulticing its leaves for treatment of wounds and sores.

Wild Sarsaparilla is a member of the Ginseng Family, not to be confused with another plant of the same common name, but a woody, prickly vine whose scientific name is Smilax ornata, a member of the Smilax or Catbrier Family. Both plants have been used as flavorings in soft drinks.

Look for very small teeth on the leaves to help identify Wild Sarsaparilla

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Red Trillium

By: Susan Sprout

This herbaceous native has had a whole lot of names, common and scientific! So far, it has been identified as a member of three different families. As luck would have it, DNA evidence landed it back in one of them – LILIACEAE – the Lily Family!

Red trillium

Trilliums just don’t have the expected lily-like parallel veins on their leaves, but rather netted ones, that crisscross and meet up again across their surface.  Each common name of Red Trillium helps describe some aspect of the plant. “Wake-robin” harkens its standout red bloom to the early arriving robin. “Stinking Benjamin” tells of the malodorous scent of its single flower used to attract carrion flies and beetles to pollinate it. “Birthwort” reminds us that its root was once used in tea made for new mothers.  The “tri” in trillium is for three – three triangular-shaped leaves,  three red to purple petals,  three greenish-red sepals that protected the bud before it opened and remain under the petals.

This species of trillium has an erect stem, “erectum”, up to four inches long, holding the flower head above the leaves. It does have the habit of curling back down under the leaves, so you sometimes have to look under to find the flower. I discovered this flower near a woods road in the state forest where Laurel and Rhododendrons grow in rich wet to dry acid soil.

The liver-red three petal flower of Red Trillium

An ephemeral plant, Trillium can grow to twenty-four inches in height even with its short life cycle:  blooming from April to June, setting seed, then dying back to its rhizomes underground for the rest of the year. This is how Trillium takes advantage of the high levels of early spring sunlight before the trees above leaf-out and block it. Smart!

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Wild Columbine

By: Susan Sprout

While walking or riding along hillsides, cliffs, or ledges, set your mind to scan for red. Our native Wild Columbine is blooming now! It is a thick-tubered perennial plant whose roots snuggle down in shale crevices holding it tight to slippery slopes. A basal rosette of leaves developed last summer has stayed green during the winter and thus provided the energy for early blooming.

Columbine’s scientific name of Aquilegia canadensis is based on Latin for “eagle” because of the talon-like shapes of the red spurs holding nectar and enticing long-tongued insects and hummingbirds to visit and pollinate its blossoms. Each petal with its long, narrow spur at the back has also been likened to pigeons, their heads together and drinking from a bowl…that’s where the common name Columbine comes from.

The long, nectar bearing spurs of wild columbine entice long-tongued insects and hummingbirds to pollinate its blossoms.

After being pollinated, the bell-shaped, drooping flower tilts upward and forms a brown, oval pod that will slowly release seeds into the wind. Its leaves alternate and are made up of three lobed or cleft leaflets. They seem to have a bluish tinge, perhaps created by light shining off the lightly fuzzy leaves. Once you have found the plant, check the bright spurs for holes, chewed there by insects, maybe bumblebees, seeking a short cut to the nectar.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Violets

By: Susan Sprout

What a bouquet of Violets I discovered on my Mothers’ Day rambles! They weren’t my common backyard and garden blues. They were white and yellow and purple! Members of the Violet Family, VIOLACEAE, there are more than seventy-seven species throughout North America. My PA plant resource lists forty living in this state.

Downy Yellow Violet

Violets are grouped together based on whether they have their flowers and leaves on the same stalk (stemmed species) or on different stalks with leaves and flowers growing singly from their underground rhizomes (stemless species). All blooms have five petals, but size, shape, color, nectar guides, length of beards on side petals that bees have to squeeze through…all separate them further into species. And the leaves…shapes from heart to birdfoot to lance and halbert, with varying degrees of smooth and hairy.

Sweet White Violet

Seed capsules and the seeds themselves have their own special colors and attitudes of growth, pointing upward when ripening and ejecting seeds several feet where they may be gathered by ants for their fats and used to feed their larvae.

Trying to identify violets is difficult because they also hybridize! Three species I am relatively sure of are all natives and like rich woods and openings along roadways. Sweet White Violet: white stemless flowers, bent-back top petals, smooth reddish stems. Long-spurred Violet: pale lavender stemmed flowers, leaf tip very pointed with a smattering of hairs, quite a long spur containing nectar. Downy Yellow Violet: yellow stemmed flower and leaves with hairy stems, long tapering point on leaves.

Long-spurred Violet

The great thing about violets is no matter which ones you find or where they are growing, you will know they all have high wildlife value – caterpillars, butterflies, moths, bees, small wasps, ants, chewing insects – they all love ’em. Yeah! I do, too!

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Box Elder (or Ash-leafed Maple)

By: Susan Sprout

Box Elder (or Ash-leafed Maple)
While birdwatching at the Robert Porter Allen Natural Area and looking up for a change, I was happy to discover this deciduous, native tree growing by the trail in a low, moist area near the wetland. Surprise!

It isn’t a Boxwood, though it has whitish wood. Neither is it an Elderberry, though it sports elder-like pinnately compound leaves resembling one. Ash-leafed Maple is probably the better name for this tree because it is a species of maple and has opposite branching like them. Its leaves, unlike the the well-known, single, palm-shaped maple leaves, are made up of multiple leaflets ranging from three to nine opposite each other on its rachis or leaf stem. Flowers, long gone by April or May, are replaced on the female tree by double samaras or seeds, which give its identity away!

Box Elder with seeds hanging like bunches of grapes.

Box Elders range from Canada to central Florida. When you find this tree, look around for grosbeaks and finches who may be feeding on the samaras, which stay on the tree until early fall. Native Americans used the sap to make maple syrup, although it wasn’t as sweet as that from Sugar maples.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Underfoot: Sharp-lobed Liverleaf

By: Susan Sprout

Sharp-lobed Liverleaf
Sharp-lobed Liverleaf (Hepatica americana var. acuta), a member of the Buttercup Family, is a native plant of eastern North America, found from Nova Scotia to north Florida. What a treat to find its flower pushing up from small rhizomes on such a hairy stem!

Check out the hairy stem supporting the Liverleaf flower and its green bracts.

Although the colors of its sepals vary from white to blue to pink, they will all have three large green bracts supporting their single blossom on each stem.  Called sepals and not petals for this plant, they can number from six to twenty.

Last year’s three-lobed, evergreen leaves are still around after hiding under the snow we had. Their color has gone a mottled greenish-purple. In fact, people used to think they looked like a human liver, hence the names liverleaf and hepatica.

Leaves of Sharp-lobed Liverleaf

Historically, herbalists who healed according to the Doctrine of Signatures saw the leaves as a divine sign that they were supposed to be used to heal liver diseases. I found Liverleaf blooming in the rich woodlands of Sullivan County. If you go looking for them on a rainy day, they may not be open fully. Don’t confuse them with Spring Beauties whose smooth stem grows from small, rounded tubers and can have as many as 11 flowers on it.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

Welcome, Sara Street!

Over the past few months, former NPC Land Steward, Tamara Wagner, has been training Sara Street to take over her role at NPC.  Tamara is embarking on a career change, but helped to get Sara up-and-running before her departure.  Together, they’ve visited several conservation easement sites and prepared for the year ahead!  We wish Tamara the best of luck, and welcome, Sara!

Get to know Sara

Hello everyone, I am the newest Land Steward Specialist at Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy! I look forward to visiting and learning about all of the conserved easements. I thoroughly enjoy walking through forests and meadows looking at plants and noticing what is blooming or experiencing change. I am enjoying this long drawn out spring with the yellow-green sugar maple samaras (baby winged seeds), red-orange red maple samaras, pink cherry blossoms, and white petals on the serviceberries.

Sara Street (Left) and Tamara Wagner (Right)

My educational background is in Landscape Architecture and Ecological Restoration. I am a Certified Arborist and I have my own business, Susquehanna Ecology Collaborative. I work in forestry, park management, municipal, and residential properties. My main tasks include invasive plant management, tree planting, shrub and perennial plantings, landscape design, property consultations, and tree injections. I enjoy gardening, propagating plants, hiking, and swimming in the Susquehanna River. I live in Muncy with my husband, Chad, who is also a Certified Arborist, and my son, Rowan, a 10th grade student at Muncy Jr/Sr High School.

Contact Sara Street at sstreet@npcweb.org.

Underfoot: Life on a Rock

By: Susan Sprout

 A huge bolder standing in a rather flat area of woods caught my eye on our Earth Day rambles. I knew it was a glacial erratic because there were no other big rocks nearby. Ripped out of its bed and plucked up by a moving ice sheet, it was unceremoniously dumped there as the glacier melted.

Glacial Erratic

Thousands of years later, it has become a microcosm of lichens, mosses, grasses and trees. The non-living environment of the rock was a stable platform or substrate for lichens, typically the first organisms to colonize bare rock. Their physical and chemical processes dissolved minerals and built up soil as they lived and died. Mosses began living on the rock next when sufficient soil was available. Then came grasses and shrubs. Living and dying there, they provided more humus and soil to the rocky top.

Moss and lichen thrive on the rock’s surface.

OK, confession time…what really caught my attention as I passed by the rock… were the American Beech trees growing on top of it, like candles on a cake! Happy B-Earth Day! May all of the ecosystems on earth keep working for all of the organisms that share the planet and make it livable for each other! Humans, take note.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

It’s About Time

By: Susan Sprout

How do you personally mark the passage of time? By the day, week, or month? By the seasons? By special family projects, events, or birthdays? From one Earth Day to another? No matter how you measured, Spring 2020 to Spring 2021 was an unusual year. For me, the time this year swelled and compressed from periods of inactivity to hyperactivity as it passed, slowing down indoors and speeding up near a deadline. Besides making music with my friends, one thing that kept me functioning and moderately sane, were  plants…those super wonderful plants that grabbed my attention on walks and hikes and forest rambles…the ones I photographed, researched and shared with you weekly. Now, many of them are already popping forth from their winter quarters and beginning to bloom! Wow! That was a quick year!

OK, maybe looking backwards!

A collection of some of the plant’s from the Underfoot series shared throughout the past year!

However, looking forward, please think about using native plants and trees in your yard and garden. Did you know that they have evolved over millions of years here and have specific habitat niches? Many have specific mycorrhizal partners in the soil that can more easily take minerals from underground and make them available to plants’ roots. They can then pass on the energy created in their leaves to the insects with which they share an evolutionary history. These insects are food for other native insects, spiders, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals. Feed our native wildlife with food plants that they can metabolize. Recharge the food web in your yard! We will all be glad you did!

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout!

Underfoot Directory
Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s BreechesGround Ivy & Forget-Me-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue ChicoryPrickly Cucumber & WintergreenBeech Drops & Partridge BerryPipsissewa & NostocWitch HazelPlantsgivingBlack Jetbead & Decorating with WinterberryWild Bergamot & Bald Cypress TreeGalls & BittersweetAmerican Beech & BagwormSeedpods & American ChestnutNorthern Bayberry & Sweet FernBroom-sedge & Common Motherswort, Snow Drops.