Tag Archives: northcentral pennsylvania conservancy

Underfoot: Eastern Hemlock

By Susan Sprout

Growing up, I was lucky to have two Eastern hemlock trees in my yard, much taller that our two-story house. One had lower branches for easy climbing; the other, with high branches, provided places for swings. Kid heaven! I learned the meaning of words like “evergreen” and “conifer” from them.

Eastern hemlocks

As I travel the back roads near my home now, I try to imagine what an entire forest of trees resembling the current state champion hemlock in Cook Forest State Park would look like. It is 125 feet tall, 5 feet in diameter and has a spread of 70 feet. Penn’s Woods was covered by magnificent old-growth forests of pine, hemlock and different kinds of hardwoods at the time of its settlement similar to this state champion tree. The loss of these giants is well-documented in histories of the lumbering industry in this area. I still like to see them in my mind, dominating the cool, moist, north-facing slopes.

Unlike many trees, hemlocks grow well in shade with their long, slender, horizontal branches drooping to the ground. Half-inch long green needles with two white stripes underneath run up both sides of the bumpy twigs. Cones are light brown and oval with short stalks holding tight to the ends of branches. Although heavy cone producers when they reach fifteen years, the life of their seeds is low due to infertility, lack of even temperatures, and the moisture required for germination. Hemlocks are very slow growers and may only get an inch and a half in height in their first year with a root of one-half inch, making them very sensitive to the drying effects of higher temperatures. They are considered fully established at three to five feet tall. Seedlings seem to grow well in rotten logs, stumps, and mounds that provide a better moisture supply, many times creating pure stands of hemlocks the same size and age.

Hemlock cones

These native giants are under attack by a very tiny insect that attaches itself under the small leaves along their stems and causes a loss of nutrients to the whole tree. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid females lay white, woolly masses of sacks containing from fifty to three hundred eggs in two generations per year. These insects insert their long, sucking mouthparts directly into the food storage cells of the tree which responds by blocking off the tiny wounds to disrupt the outflow of sap. This, in turn, cuts off the flow of nutrients to the needles and twigs, leading eventually to their death.  Dieback to major limbs can occur within two years and generally progresses from the bottom of the tree upward. Originally introduced from Japan in the 1950’s, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has spread to eighteen eastern states from Georgia to Maine and now covers nearly half the range of native hemlocks, appearing to spread about ten miles per year. 

We need our hemlocks because they make the damp, cool, shady environment required by many of the forest plants. They also keep it cool for small streams and their inhabitants. They provide wonderful shelter and nesting sites, nooks and crannies for dens, and food in the form of seeds and greens for browse. As young landscape plantings, they soften the rigid outlines of houses and sheds and cut be trimmed to create hedges. And, after all, they are our Pennsylvania State Tree!

Thank you to Evergreen Wealth Solutions for your support!

Underfoot: Northern Maidenhair Fern

By Susan Sprout

These elegant-looking perennial ferns, preferring acid soil and partial shade, are likely to be found on wooded slopes and ravine bottoms that are moist. They “brown-up” early in summer when they are too dry. Northern Maidenhair Fern or Adantium pedatum is the Eastern North American native of this genus growing world-wide that has nearly two hundred different species in it.  I love looking for their circular patterns of horizontal fronds and bright green leaflets divided into little fan shapes! They are lacy and delicate. The shiny black stems holding them all together are a great clue when trying to identify Maidenhair Fern, and thus, the name. And they are tough! They were used by Native Americans in their basket-making. With many other ferns, there is an observable difference between fertile fronds carrying spores and non-fertile fronds without them. Not so with Maidenhair! Their foliage looks the same until you turn one over and find little sori curled up on underside edges behind the vein tips of the leaflet. Though tiny and tucked away, wind will disperse the spores to grow into heart-shaped gametophytes responsible for sexual reproduction and creation of the next generation of ferns. Over time, they will grow into colonies, spread by their underground rhizomes. In spring, look for the pinkish-brown crosiers or shepherd’s crooks pushing up. Return trips are a must…to see them gracefully unfurl!

Northern Maidenhair Fern
Circular frond pattern

Phelps’ Mills Canoe Access Celebrated

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams joined the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy (NPC) and local supporters for a dedication ceremony at the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch on Pine Creek in the Tiadaghton State Forest in Pine Creek Township, Clinton County just across the Creek from the borough of Jersey Shore.

The moment the ribbon was cut!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

“The story of the Phelps Mills Canoe Launch is a testament to the power of collaboration and the impact it can have providing recreational opportunities in our communities,” Dunn said. “Thank you to NPC, its volunteers, George and Shirley Durrwachter, and everyone who helped make this project a reality.”

The ceremony formally welcomed Phelps Mill Canoe Launch on Pine Creek under the Bureau of Forestry umbrella. Although the canoe launch has been a managed as a part of Tiadaghton State Forest since late 2019 when DCNR purchased the property from NPC, the obeservance on June 25, 2021 allowed the project partners to come together and celebrate what they achieved.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the project possible and came out to celebrate!
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

NPC was able to purchase the property and conduct environmental assessments due to a generous donation from Dr. George and Shirley Durrwachter.

This photo from before the improvements show the path down to Pine Creek with just a bit of the gate in the lower left corner.

“Having this boat launch available to local residents will allow them to traverse the creek and the river to downtown Jersey Shore,” George Durrwachter said. “Creating recreational opportunities closer to where people live is important not only because of time constraints but it will also reduce congestion on the highways.”

In addition to the donation from the Durrwachters to acquire the land, NPC secured grants and support from the Western Pennsylvania Canoe Access Fund and the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund to support improvements at the canoe launch.

The improvements were completed in August 2020 and helped stabilize the canoe launch, improve the walking surface, improve the parking lot, and replace the gate with a bollard to make it easier to carry canoes and kayaks down the path.

By October 2020 the site improvements were complete and the pathway was easier to use and navigate, especially if carring a canoe or kayak.

The black lab who showed up just as the group photo was wrapping up wasn’t planned, but was perfectly timed. The lab had his stick and headed straight to the water, running down the improved pathway, and launched into the Creek.

Thank you again to George and Shirley for their support that made this possible! Thank you also to Carl Barlett for speaking on behalf of NPC and Commissioner Jeff Snyder for his remarks on behalf of the Clinton County Tourism and Recreation Fund and the Clinton County Commissioners.

The unplanned black lab who demonsrated how to enjoy the Creek.
(photo credit: Wesley Robinson)

We hope you enjoy rivers all summer long! If you want to check out this access, the address is 1019 E. Central Ave., Jersey Shore, PA (but you’re on the west side of the Creek/the Avis side, not the east side of the Creek/the Jersey Shore side).

Underfoot: American Beech & Bagworm

By: Susan Sprout

The smooth, silvery-gray bark distinguishes an American Beech tree.

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.

A cluster of American Beech trees.

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.

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).

A dissected cocoon of Bagworm Moth.

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. 

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: 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 Tree, Galls & Bittersweet.

Underfoot: Galls & Bittersweet

By: Susan Sprout


The goldenrod stem has a lump.
The willow twig sprouted a bump.
Some rumor a tumor
But I think I’d sooner
Believe it some kind of a mump!

Swollen ball goldenrod gall

I cannot take credit for this poem. I used it years ago while teaching and have since lost the book source and poet’s name. I will credit the poet when I find a name. But, WOW! How perfect is it as an introduction to galls? This is a great time of year to be looking for these abnormal plant growths on twigs and branches that have lost their leaves. They really stick out!

Most galls are caused by insects like aphids, midges, wasps, or mites. They eat or lay eggs which causes irritation that stimulates plant cells to reorganize and accelerate their growth in bizarre ways. Viruses, fungi and bacteria can also invade plants and trees to create galls. Galls can act as protective habitat from predators as well as a food source for larvae.

There are over 2,000 American plant galls caused by insects and mites! You can sometimes identify the insect or mite responsible by identifying the plant and where on the plant it has been invaded.

The willow pinecone gall grows at the tips of branches and is caused by  gall gnat larvae. The swollen ball gall is caused by a goldenrod gall fly and is found on the stem. The following spring or summer, a small hole in the gall will be evidence that the larva has matured and gone its own way…to another lovely green goldenrod stem.

The willow pinecone gall grows at the tips of branches and is caused by gall gnat larvae.

The bushy cabbage gall on goldenrod growth tips stop growth in that direction, causing the leaves to fluff out and send stems growing outward under it.

A bonus while I searched for galls was a preying mantis egg case, resembling  beige expansion foam, like the kind used for filling cracks and insulating. Bet it works great for the mantis babies!


It’s a vine that’s not divine! A bittersweet tale on my part because I unknowingly became an accessory to the spread of this prolific and invasive plant. By using large sprays of its berries for fall and winter decorations, I have helped the spread of its seeds…just like birds, in whose stomachs the seeds can remain for weeks allowing them to be deposited long distances away. No, I didn’t eat them because they are poisonous to humans. What I did do was to transport berries from where the Bittersweet was growing to my home, dropping seeds here and there and everywhere. I’m still uprooting little sprouts.

There are two species of Bittersweet in Pennsylvania, both members of the Staff-tree Family: one is native (Celastrus scandens)and in decline because of the other, a non-native (Celastrus orbiculatus) from Eastern Asia. They are difficult to differentiate: the native has skinnier leaves and puts out blooms and seed capsules terminally while the non-native one has rounder leaves and puts it blossoms and seed capsules near the leaf axils. Unfortunately, they can hybridize. Another reason they are hard to identify.

Bittersweet with freshly opened seed capsules.

Golly, they look sooo pretty when the fruit capsules the size of peas split open, revealing the bright orangish-red fleshy aril that covers the seeds. That’s really sweet. But, the sad, bitter facts are that Bittersweet vines grow rapidly, climbing and twining up to ninety feet in taller trees. They have detrimental effects on any plant or tree they use for support because they can literally choke or girdle it, especially if it is young. The huge weight of these smothering vines can actually break down and uproot trees. Bittersweet, well-named.

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: 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 Winterberry, Wild Bergamot & Bald Cypress Tree.

Nonpoint Source Pollution – Virtual Field Trip

Earlier this fall, NPC, the Union County Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission teamed up to take you on a virtual field trip exploring Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS).

NPS pollution comes from many different sources, like sediment from eroding streambanks and excess fertilizer on agricultural lands. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.

Throughout the video series, they’ll explain more about NPS pollution and its sources, and how they effect both the aquatic life and the people that live within the watershed.

Together, with the rest of the Northcentral Stream Partnership, NPC is working to reduce NPS pollution throughout our watersheds. This virtual field trip introduces those partners and covers the process, implementation, and assessment involved in completing two stream improvement projects!  

NPC Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, receives Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award

NPC is very proud to share that your Executive Director, Renee’ Carey, was recently presented the 2020 Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award by the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA).

Dr. Jim Finley with PFA presents Renee’ with the 2020 Dr. Joseph Trimble Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award.

Renee’, has served PFA in many capacities as a board member and volunteer supporting forest, land, and water conservation. In 2019 Renee’ celebrated 25 years with the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy where she is currently the executive director. She is widely respected for her work ethic, passion for conservation, and leadership in the conservation community. The plaque she received read, “Renee’ consistently demonstrates her commitment to conservation of land, forests, and water and the communities that depend on wise resource use. She actively seeks partnerships with state agencies, county conservation districts, non-profit organizations, and landowners to protect and conserve natural resources for recreation and jobs today and to allow future generations similar opportunities. She is known for encouraging and guiding people to steward natural resources with the vision to nourish communities. Her passion for this work clearly emulates the values she shares with Dr. Rothrock’s concern for natural resource stewardship.

The Pennsylvania Forestry Association

Each year the Association recognizes an individual, organization or group’s significant contributions to the public recognition of the importance of Pennsylvania’s forest resources in the same tradition and spirit of Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock. 

Dr. Rothrock served as the first president of PFA and earned the title, “Father of Forestry in Pennsylvania,” through his untiring efforts to promote the forest conservation movement in Pennsylvania.

Nominees for the Award were evaluated on the following three criteria:

  • Value of contributions to the continued conservation of Pennsylvania’s forest resource;
  • Public recognition and stature of the individual in the field of resource conservation; and
  • Other Unique or special considerations which demonstrate a long term commitment to conservation.

Renee’ was nominated by Dennis Ringling, Marc Lewis, and Roy Siefert. Renee’ would like to thank these individuals for their nomination and the PFA for honoring her with this award.

I am both humbled and honored to receive the Rothrock Conservationist of the Year Award. I have been so proud to serve our communities and help champion the conservation efforts of NPC for the past 26 years. I look forward to many more years to come!

Renee’ Carey, NPC Executive Director

From Underfoot to on your Table: Some thoughts on #Plantsgiving

Planning a #Plantsgiving

Given concerns over COVID-19, people all over the U.S. are making the tough choice to avoid gathering in large groups this Thanksgiving. Bucknell Professor Chris Martine, biology, and his botanical colleagues suggest that one way to still bring everyone together for the holiday is to join them in the 2020 edition of #PlantsGiving, a social media campaign in which people challenge one another to count the number of plant species used in their Thanksgiving meal. Learn more about #Plantsgiving here.

Below, Susan Sprout, shares some insight on some not-so-noticeable plants that are likely to be apart of your Thanksgiving meal.

By: Susan Sprout

I love the thought and act of giving thanks anytime. We don’t do it nearly enough. What a great idea to count the blessings of plants as part of Thanksgiving preparations! Plants provide so much to the human population of this planet and yet, we probably overlook their presence in many of the items we eat. So now is the time to take some time and to be mindful of the many unique and tasty ways in which we enjoy or eat or imbibe plants.

STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

By counting the number of different plant species used in our Thanksgiving feast and sharing the information, we are providing recognition due to all plants for their continuing support all these years. We should also look at this as a way to educate others – friends, family, students, all plant primary and secondary consumers – about their many and varied uses. This being said, you have probably guessed by now that I really love plants and enjoy telling their stories and sharing them with you. The plants that I report on most are natives or plants living here so long, everybody thinks they are natives. I would like to take this opportunity, since it’s Thanksgiving and #PlantsGiving, to tell you about some non-native plants you will probably use this week. They are spices used in pumpkin pies and muffins and breads. They are cinnamon and allspice.

My Ceylon cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylandicum) and my allspice tree (Pimenta dioica) are tropical trees that live in my backyard during the warm months and inside the house the rest of the year. They are taller than I am, so the photos show their long, shiny, evergreen leaves instead of the whole tree. Cinnamon is a member of the Lauraceae Family like sassafras and bay leaves. Allspice is a member of the Myrtaceae Family like eucalyptus. Cinnamon can grow from 20 to 60 feet. I will definitely be keeping mine trimmed down to a manageable size. Some people are so surprised to find out the cinnamon powder is made from the inner bark of this tree, after it is striped off, bundled and allowed to ferment. The outer layer of bark is then scraped off and the inner bark is rolled into quills and allowed to dry. It is the second most popular spice in the USA, after black pepper. My allspice tree is native to the West Indies. Our ground allspice is made from the small green fruits that are picked in mid-summer and dried by the sun or in ovens. Its name reflects the fact that it has the aroma and flavor of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves combined.

Have a splendid #PlantsGiving. Some clues for your search:

  • Read labels, look for different types of gums in milk products and gluten-free baking mixes.
  • My favorite bread from Wegman’s has 17 different flours, seeds, and nuts. So, be vigilant!
  • Don’t forget herbs and spices.
  • There is corn starch in baking powder.
  • Check beverages for sugar and Stevia.
  • Don’t forget the wine!


Susan Sprout is the author of the recurring series, Underfoot, on the NPC blog. Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: 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 & Nostoc, Witch Hazel.

Elk Country and the NPC Legacy

Each year thousands of people make the trip to Elk Country – home to the largest free-roaming elk herd in the northeastern United States – for the opportunity to catch sight of this magnificent animal in its natural habitat. Located in the northcentral region of Pennsylvania, as many as 1,400 elk roam wild across 3,000 square miles.

Photo credit: Tim Holladay

One of the most popular times of year to view the elk is during the “fall rut,” which typically begins in September and carries through October.  Keep your eyes and ears open during this time, for a chance to see bull elk locking antlers as they compete for a mate or hear the distinct “elk bugle” mating call!  The area also boasts several world class visitor and education centers, an abundance of other wildlife viewing opportunities, and a 127-mile scenic drive that loops through Elk Country.  Visit PA Wilds to help plan your trip and learn to be ELK SMART to help preserve the wild nature of the herd during your visit!

Elk History in PA

Eastern elk once roamed freely throughout their native Pennsylvania range.  However, colonization and unregulated hunting wiped out the native herd by the mid-1800s.  In 1913, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) began reintroducing elk imported from the western United States into the Pennsylvania wild.  Since then, PGC, along with other state agencies and organizations – including the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy – have worked to help conserve and protect the elk and their habitat.

NPC and Partners Expand Elk Habitat in Clinton County 

By the late 1990’s, NPC was on the cusp of its 10th anniversary and was a testament for what the power of partnerships and community-driven conservation efforts could achieve.  So, when a large parcel of land on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in the Sproul State Forest District was rumored for sale, NPC and the community rallied! 

You see, for generations, the community had accessed the land for hiking, hunting and picnicking; and feared private purchase would cut them off from the land they loved.  While at the same time, the PGC was searching for areas to expand the elk herd’s conserved habitat.

Partnerships formed quickly between NPC, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. At a West Keating Township meeting, NPC worked with the community to understand their needs. The heirs of the over 4,000 acres agreed to sell the property for conservation. Additionally, contributions came from large foundations, as well as sportsmen’s groups and individual donors. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded funding through the Keystone Fund and the land was purchased!

In the end, 1,110 acres of new state forest was secured with public access to the river, and 3,330 acres of new elk habitat and hunting ground created as State Game Lands 321.

This piece of the NPC legacy, known as the Kelly-New Garden project, not only helped restore the elk herd to what it is today, but also ensured that these awe-inspiring animals will have a habitat to roam wild in Pennsylvania for generations yet to come.