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Field Journal Friday: Richards Conservation Easement

The picturesque, 21-acre ‘Richards’ conservation easement in Sullivan County helps conserve the health of the Loyalsock Creek and the scenic views from the popular Loyalsock Trail.

Conserving the land around the Loyalsock Creek is important because it helps maintain the health of the creek and the surrounding environment. By conserving the trees, plants, and natural habitats along the creek banks, we can prevent soil erosion, filter pollutants, and maintain clean water for drinking and recreation.

Here’s a look at some of the plant life that Sara came across during her annual monitoring visit at the Richards conservation easement.

Observation #1: Clubmoss

There are over 400 species of clubmoss. Clubmoss is commonly found in moist, shaded areas throughout Pennsylvania’s forests and woodlands. These small, evergreen plants are known for their branching stems and tiny, scale-like leaves. Despite their name, clubmosses are not true mosses but belong to a group of primitive plants called Lycophytes.

Clubmoss

Observation #2: False Helebore

Here’s a native perennial that you’ll want to be aware of on the trails, as its toxic to humans and animals if ingested!  False hellebore is easily identified by the heavy parallel veins on the leaves and can grow up to 7’ tall. False hellebore is common in Pennsylvania wetlands and blooms in the summer.

False helebore found in PA’s forests and wetlands.

Observation #3: Heartleaf Foamflower

Heartleaf foamflower, also known as Tiarella cordifolia, is a charming native plant found in Pennsylvania’s woodlands and shady areas. This low-growing, native perennial adds a touch of beauty to forest flowers with its heart-shaped leaves and clusters of delicate, white or pink blossoms. The finely textured, tiny flowers resemble foam, making it easy to remember its common name.

Pollinators love Heartleaf foamflower

Observation #4: Mountain Wood Sorrel

Mountain Wood Sorrel, also known as Oxalis montana, is a dainty, native wildflower to Pennsylvania’s mountainous regions. It’s easily recognized by its trifoliate leaves, which resemble shamrocks, that fold down at night or during dry conditions to help conserve moisture. It’s delicate white and pink flowers are also popular amongst pollinators.

Mountain Wood Sorrel is easily recognized by its shamrock-shaped leaves.

Observation #5: Trillium

The trillium here is not in bloom, as their blooming season has ended. It is still important to note their appearance, to not disturb this sensitive, slow growing, native plant.

Trillium not in bloom.
Catch up on other Field Journal Friday entries:
Logue-McMahon Conservation Easement
Zaner, Overlook & Power Dam Conservation Easements
Blackwell Conservation Easement

Field Journal Friday: Logue-McMahon Conservation Easement

Nestled between Muncy Heritage Park and the West Branch Susquehanna River, sits NPC’s Logue-McMahon conservation easement. On this Field Journal Friday we’re exploring some of the conservation values that this 20-acre easement upholds.

Observation #1: History

The historic Pennsylvania canal, which operated from 1827 to 1839 is part of the Muncy Heritage Park and Nature Trail, which bisects the conservation easement. Interpretive signs can be found throughout the park, highlighting the historical and environmental significance of the area. While the easement itself is not open to the public, visitors can still enjoy the farm, wetland, and forested views of the easement from the Park’s trail.

The Logue-McMahon easement also conserves a historic farmhouse, built around 1795, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Additionally, farming continues to thrive on the property, with row crops like corn being grown on the fertile soils.

Observation #2: Wildlife Habitat

On the section of the easement east of the canal lays a large wetland that provides food and habitat for ducks, geese, fish, frogs, turtles and other wildlife.

Chokecherry can also be found throughout the easement. This native, understory tree is an important food source for wildlife in the summer, and the fragrant white flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Observation #3: Susquehanna River

The forested riparian buffer helps prevent riverbank erosion and keeps nutrients from entering the West Branch Susquehanna River, contributing to the health of the river and everywhere else downstream.

Catch up on other Field Journal Friday entries:
Zaner, Overlook & Power Dam Conservation Easements
Blackwell Conservation Easement

Get to know Tim Plisiewicz, Head Brewer at THBC

Tim Plisiewicz is the Head Brewer at Turkey Hill Brewing Company (THBC). He possesses a wide array of interests and knowledge ranging from brewing and bedrocks to fishing and foraging – making him just the kind of person you’d enjoy having a long chat with over a good beer!

Originally from Trevorton, Pennsylvania, Tim graduated from Bloomsburg in 2011 with a degree in Biology Natural History and a minor in Geology. A lover of learning, the natural sciences, and new experiences, he first entered the craft-brewing realm through a gifted homebrew kit.  However, it didn’t take him long to realize he had a passion and a talent for the process. 

Tim began his professional journey as an Assistant Brewer at THBC, where he had the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of the former Head Brewer, Donny Abraczinskas. Tim honed his skills and knowledge under Abraczinskas’ guidance, preparing himself to take over the helm as the Head Brewer upon Abraczinskas’ retirement.

Combining a Passion for Nature and Craft Beer

Tim’s brewing philosophy is deeply intertwined with his love for nature, often incorporating elements of the natural world into his brews. For instance, the “Red Beds Rye Saison” on tap at THBC pays homage to the red bed sedimentary rock formations found in Bloomsburg.

So, when the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy and THBC came together to create ‘A Night for Nature,’ Tim was quickly inspired to craft the new ‘Helles-bender’ beer for the event. Named after the Pennsylvania state amphibian, the eastern hellbender, this brew highlights the connection between clean water, healthy streams, and quality beer. Tim emphasized the importance of water quality in brewing, stating, “If your water is flawed, your beer is flawed.”

In addition to food, live music, and a commemorative pint glass, ticketholders for ‘A Night for Nature’ will receive a free beer at the event, which Tim describes as “A very drinkable helles style lager – low hop, slightly malty, fruity and floral.”

VIP ticketholders receive additional perks such as early entry and a behind-the-scenes brewery tour led by Tim himself. Whether you’re a homebrewer, beer enthusiast, or simply curious about the brewing process, a VIP ticket offers a unique opportunity to engage with Tim and learn more about the art and science of brewing.

Steady Progress in 2023 Helps Improve Local Water Quality

That catchy phrase, “team work makes the dream work,” always comes to mind when reflecting at the end of another construction season.  The “team” in this case, is the Northcentral Stream Partnership, a partnership consisting of state agencies, county conservation districts, willing landowners, and NPC.  The “dream” – healthy water resources for our communities.

Like most dreams, progress takes time.  Fortunately, the Northcentral Stream Partnership came together in 2009, and year after year, has been steadily bringing the region’s waterways back to health while maintaining a working agricultural landscape.

The team works to secure an in-stream log structure with rebar.

The Partnership didn’t waste any time getting the 2023 stream season underway in March at project sites in Northumberland and Montour Counties. Here, landowners were seeing their streambanks wash away with each high water. Eroding streambanks cause sediment to wash into the streams. This sediment smothers aquatic life, leads to habitat loss, clouds the water, and creates higher levels of nutrients.  To combat the issue, The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission developed designs for the sites using in-stream stabilization structures (i.e. log vanes and mudsills). The Northumberland County Conservation District and Montour County Conservation District worked with the landowners and coordinated the materials needed for the project. NPC organized the project and administered the funding provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Grant program.  (And yes, despite insulated waders to help keep everyone warm, the water in March is still quite chilly!)

Before: Steep, undercut banks lead to further erosion.
After: In-stream log structures stabilize the streambank.

Applying this same model, the Partnership’s work continued in Columbia County on Hemlock Creek and the East Branch of Briar Creek. The Partnership has been able to work with several landowners in other stretches of Hemlock Creek over the last several years.

The East Branch of Briar Creek was another stream the Partnership re-visited in 2023. This year’s project included both streambank stabilization and planting trees for a riparian buffer.  Columbia County Conservation District coordinated getting the materials to the site and worked with the landowner throughout the process.

Before: An eroding streambank in Columbia County.
After: Gently sloped banks let the stream access its floodplain.

The Tioga County Conservation District organized a project on Canoe Camp Creek. This year’s project built on work done over the years by the Tioga County Conservation District and a past partnership project. While the work happened in May, the group gave a tour of projects in the watershed in mid-November to legislators.

Little Shamokin Creek Watershed Association hosted another project at their property in Northumberland County. They’ve collaborated with the Partnership numerous times over the years helping to find landowners to work with as well as allowing projects on their own property.

Normally projects take place on private properties where most people can’t follow progress and see the stream improve. This year, however, we had a project in a Township park. The Union County Conservation District helped coordinate with East Buffalo Township at their new Turtle Creek Park.  The project occurred right along a walking path in the park where the public will be able to watch the stream improve. A live stake planting done in the weeks following the stream project has really started to take off already!

Schwaben Creek in Northumberland County was another stream where the Partnership built off the success of past year’s projects. During last year’s project on Schwaben Creek the neighbors stopped in and asked if their properties might be candidates for future work. Well, indeed they were, and became the 2023 project site on Schwaben Creek!

In October, the Partnership wrapped up the construction season on Susquehecka Creek.  The Snyder County Conservation District took the lead on the project, securing the permits, organizing supplies, and walking the landowner through the process.

In the off-season, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will be visiting sites and creating designs for 2024 and 2025.  Once the designs for the 2024 projects are complete, the PFBC will have an estimate on how many days projects will take. That information will allow a schedule for the 2024 season to be drafted.

That’s right; we are already talking about 2025! The designs are needed to generate supply lists and supply lists are needed to create budgets. Getting the designs and supply lists now, allows partners to think through funding and apply for grants and other funding opportunities.

The Partnership has funding to get started with the 2024 construction season. NPC submitted an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year for funding to continue the Partnership’s work.  Grant announcements should be made in January…just as we’re mentally preparing to step our boots back in those frigid March waters!

Underfoot: WILD CRANBERRIES

By Susan Sprout

In the Pennsylvania Wilds, growing in my favorite bog are Cranberries! It may seem odd that I am writing about them “out of season,” since they become mostly red and ready for picking in the fall and for eating at Thanksgiving and Christmas times. Who thinks about fresh cranberries in the spring? I do!

Wild cranberry plants with leaves that will green up as spring proceeds

Originally they were known as “craneberries” because the shape of their male reproductive organs, or stamens, tended to resemble a crane’s beak. Wild cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native here as well as large areas of Canada and Northeastern United States, southward to Tennessee and North Carolina. Cultivars created from wild species are grown commercially in artificial ponds. The top five states in cranberry production are Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington.

Cranberry fruit showing bottom side

Cranberries are members of the Heath Family, Ericaceae, along with locally known plants like huckleberries, teaberries, azaleas, laurels, and rhododendrons which all typically grow in acid soils. Cranberries seem to do well in acid soils in wet, peaty, seepy places – like my favorite bog! I visit there several times a year and have written blogs about five plants found growing in it. Never have I visited in March, until this year…and discovered red berries snuggled down in their brownish-purply, copper winter foliage. I tasted some of the berries left over from last fall and found they do not get any sweeter after freezing like rosehips do. Very tart or sour.

Cranberry plants nestled in with sphagnum and dewberry leaves

Why did I never notice them growing there before? I think they kind of blended in with the sphagnum mosses and dewberries trailing over the ground there.  And they do trail, their wiry stems forming dense masses. Cranberries have small oval leaves growing along stems that spread horizontally for a bit, then curve upward. Their tiny flowers with four backward pointing petals open in late June to form a pinkish-white carpet, ready for pollination by bees, and to create fruit ready for picking in September through November. Also in late summer, new terminal buds begin to form for next year’s crop of berries. They will require a period of dormancy in order to successfully produce flowers and fruit. They must undergo a sufficient period of cold temperatures and short daylight hours called “chill hours” during the winter months in order to break dormancy and open in mid-summer of the next year to start the blooming process all over again. If you count the months, you will see that it takes them from fourteen to sixteen months to produce berries. Hopefully the geographical range where the optimal conditions occur will not shrink due to climate change!

We love our cranberries – rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants! Cranberries, according to NIH National Library of Medicine, can prevent tooth decay, gum disease, inhibit urinary tract infections, reduce inflammation in the body, maintain a healthy digestion system and decrease cholesterol levels. Check out The Cranberry Institute for more information about these powerful little fruits!

Underfoot: SHINGLE OAK

By, Susan Sprout

Question: When does an oak leaf not look like an oak leaf?

Answer: When it is a Shingle Oak Leaf!

We’ve been taught there are two groups of oaks: white oaks whose leaves have rounded lobes on them and red oaks with sharp pointed and toothed leaves. Shingle Oak, or Quercus imbricaria, is a type of native red oak that has no points or teeth on its leaves – just nice smooth edges. Occasionally they may be found growing on moist hillsides or in bottom lands. I spied one walking on Canfield Island last week. I did not know what it was. The tree caught my eye because of its shiny, dark green leaves that looked sort of like rhododendron leaves only smaller and not leathery. I found a small bunch of leaves that had fallen, or been chewed off the tree, lying beneath it. They were smooth-edged, ranging in size from four to six inches long and were lightly furred underneath by very short, tannish hairs. I had to use my magnifier to determine that. Of course, it was all of the acorns growing on and lying beneath it that really clued me in…IT’S A SPECIES OF OAK! 

This Shingle Oak could grow to 100 feet in height.

Shingle Oaks are more frequently found west of here in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valley regions. They are commonly used as ornamentals, and this one may well have been planted here. What a treat to find and identify it! 

Twig of Shingle Oak leaves

Shingle Oaks flower in May when their leaves are about half-grown. Their acorns will then be ripe about eighteen months later. The species name imbricaria is Latin for “like a shingle” which could indicate its use as a source of hand-split shingles or shakes. Or, maybe, because of the caps on the small brown acorns that have wedge-shaped, pointed scales overlapping to resemble a shingled roof.

Acorns are about 1/2 inch in length 

How many native animals and insects need native oak trees for food or habitat? Of 435 species of oaks worldwide, 91 are found in the United States AND support more caterpillar species than any other genus of plants in all of North America – not to mention all the animals that eat acorns. Read more about them in Doug Tallamy’s book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees.”

Underfoot – A GATHERING OF TRUE BUGS (Eastern Boxelder Bugs)

By, Susan Sprout

I was surprised recently by a large amount of insects sitting on the leaves of some Great Lobelia plants.  Maybe “amazed” would be a better word for it. There were a lot of them. I needed to identify them and learn why they were gathering there. Here’s what I learned – they are our native Eastern Boxelder Bugs. Considered “true” bugs because adults have piercing, sucking mouth parts and a characteristic triangle shape between the tops of their leather-like wings. The younger bugs with them are nymphs with bright red bodies, black antennae and legs. You can find them easily in the photo because they are the ones with small slate gray or black patches on their backs. These are their wing buds. When the nymphs emerged from eggs, they were only 1.3 mm in length. (There are 25.4 mm in an inch.) So tiny! Because they are invertebrates, or animals without backbones, they are held together, supported, protected by an exoskeleton made of chitin. It is stiff and hard. When the nymphs begin to grow, they must shed and replace that rigid exoskeleton with a new larger one in order to get bigger and attain adulthood with sexual organs and wings. They need to molt five different times, becoming darker red as they mature. The red V on the back of an adult is created by its folded wing edges. The other, larger red marks on their bodies may serve as a warning to predators that they are distasteful because they contain a pungent, bad-tasting compound. Preying mantis and spiders eat them anyway. Few birds will eat them. They sun together in large groups on warm surfaces. All of that red in one place probably serves to keep hungry predators from munching on them. 

Masses of Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder Bugs feed almost entirely on the developing seeds of boxelder, maple, and ash trees. They will suck juices from the leaves, but prefer the seeds. They do not sting or transmit diseases and are not classified as a pest. They can be found east of the Rockies in woods and gardens. There is a similar species that lives west of the Rockies. In autumn, swarms of females can be seen looking for thick piles of plant debris in which to overwinter. They emerge in spring to lay eggs which are hidden in bark crevices, under leaves in safe areas. 

Look for the nymphs with small wing buds mixed in with adults

Sometimes Boxelder Bugs are confused with the Eastern Milkweed Bugs that are reddish-orange and black in color. They are true bugs, too. Get yourself a bug book and check them out!

Nymphs of Eastern Milkweed Bugs on a seedpod

Underfoot: WHITE VERVAIN

By, Susan Sprout

A volunteer plant grew near my woodshed – unexpected, but not unappreciated! It appeared over a month ago. I had to wait for it to grow bigger before introducing it to you and getting the photos that would capture its unique physique! Our native White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia) is a member of the Verbena Family, along with about 3,000 other species, mostly from warmer climates. Teak is one of them, prized for its beautiful and durable wood. I have always admired White Vervain and was happy to find it growing nearby. These annual or perennial plants usually choose moist fields, meadows, thickets or waste ground. Well, nothing much grows there except pennyroyal, and there is a downspout nearby. I guess that works in its favor.

Young White Vervain plant. My husband held a rug behind it as contrast in order to show its short flower spikes at its top.

White Vervain plants are compact at their start. When their small, tight, flower spikes appear, the magic begins! Their very slender flower stems begin to stretch out in all directions. The buds on them move further and further apart from each other until they look like little bugs sitting on thin branches. The really tiny white flowers open willy-nilly, here and there, as they mature. I pulled off one of the pollinated flowers and rubbed it gently between my fingers to tease out the four nutlets inside that will create the next generation of plants there. The flower stalks definitely stand out as an identifying characteristic of White Vervain. But, the rest of the plant needs to be checked out, too. It can grow from two to five feet tall, has a hairy, square stem, and stiff, opposite leaves that are doubly-serrated and look like the blades on a steak knife. If you want to look for this plant, it should be flowering from July to September in Pennsylvania. Its close relative, Blue Vervain, can be found inhabiting similar habitats, but has stiff pencil-like spikes of small, blue flowers that appear in a “more organized” fashion resembling a candelabra!

Large plant with expanded flower spikes reaching out in all directions.

Medicinally, Vervains are astringent, or drying, and have been used for millennia crushed up and applied externally to wounds, poison ivy sores and other skin complaints.

Underfoot: PURPLE-FLOWERING RASPBERRY

By, Susan Sprout

Purple-flowering Raspberry’s scientific name is Rubus odoratus. Its genus name is from Latin for “bramble”, defined as a prickly, scrambling shrub or vine of the Rose Family. But, its arching and sprawling branches have reddish-brown hairs that are sticky to touch instead of prickly to touch! This perennial plant is native to eastern North America. Its gorgeous rose-purple flowers that are about two inches wide made it a desired target of plant gathers from England in the 1770’s. It was taken there as an ornamental and has since naturalized as many plants from there have done here!

Purple-flowering Raspberry with five-pointed leaves

The leaves of this shrub resemble maple leaves with a heart-shaped base and three or five triangle lobes. The whole plant can reach to six feet tall. On a ledge or a shaded cliff where they seem to prefer growing, it is hard to get a true measure of their height. Their five-petaled flowers, pollinated by bees and insects, then create a large, flat berry made up of many little druplets. They bloom from May to August and set fruit from July to September depending on local conditions. I have found many adjectives describing the characteristics of these red berries: dry, tart, acid, bland, seedy, fuzzy to touch and on the tongue! Well, songbirds and game birds will eat them. Small mammals, too. The seeds are great for sowing in order to return native plants to an area and the roots work well at stabilizing banks. Many members of the Rubus genus, eighteen grow PA, have been used medicinally because their leaves are highly astringent and helped treat dysentery and diarrhea as well as skin ailments like sores and boils. 

Check out the hairy flower buds and the white, unripened fruit.

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.