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LV Sustainable Landscapes bus tour shares information

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Dan Kunkle, director of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, leads a hike through the native plant gardens at the center.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Dan Kunkle, director of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, leads a hike through the native plant gardens at the center.
Published June 25. 2011 09:01AM

A bus tour sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with the participation of 15 organizations, introduced what other people are doing that might be helpful in their own work.

Invited were people who deal with design, management or maintenance of lands used for recreation, industry, education, storm-water management, education or agriculture. The object was to demonstrate ideas and best management practices to manage lands through effective, environmentally friendly ways.

Tim Dugan of DCNR Bureau of Forestry said all sites on the tour demonstrate sustainable activities whether it is through building and design, native plants or controlling storm-water runoff.

It is the second year of the collaboration and has grown.

The Lehigh Valley Greenways Conservation Lands Initiative in Lehigh and Northampton counties, a six-year program, is attempting to connect open space and natural areas, Dugan said. It is funded in part by the DCNR.

The tour was to try and gather conservation groups, nonprofit or government, that have similar mindsets. The idea is to combine efforts for a centralized plan and do education and outreach.

The sites visited this year are the Emmaus Community Park, Wildlands Conservancy, Jordan Creek Greenway, Ironton Rail Trail, Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Trexler Nature Preserve, Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery and Penn's Meadow.

"Where others saw a degraded mountain, we saw an opportunity," said Director Dan Kunkle of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, which is just north of Slatington.

Although he would have preferred a long hike, he demonstrated the work that has been done with a PowerPoint presentation. The New Jersey Zinc Company was built in 1898 the site chosen because of the availability of coal.

Although it was an excellent company there was no way to control the pollution that killed everything on the mountain. There were not even bacteria or fungi in much of the 750 acres when it was purchased in 2002.

"It is the only superfund site that became an environmental center," he said. There are three ponds with wetlands. The mountain has seeps and springs. Mike Kaiser of Lehigh County Planning told him the mountain should be protected for the water if nothing else. The center protects the riparian zone and the Lehigh River is healthy once again.

There is a savanna where warm-season grasses were planted on the degraded area. The tops of the tall grass die back each year and organic soil is being formed. Cliffs and steep slopes make Kunkle hopeful that peregrines may return.

Under a power line native plants and shrubs have been planted. It will not be allowed to progress into forest. Kunkle received a conservation fellowship and is giving it to people who take the lead in working on projects at the center such as the power-line project.

Several endangered species have returned to the area and it is the only place sandwort grows because it likes the zinc in the soil.

It is at the intersection of the Appalachian and Delaware and Lehigh trails with those of the center.

The invasive plant, butterfly bush, was pulled and more came up from the roots. Finally the conclusion was reached that the only effective method of control would be herbicide.

Native gray birch is taking up the metals from the soil. A decision has to be made whether to remove them and keep it as grassland or let forest succession continue prescribed fire would be the only method of removal.

Kunkle told about the green building with its high level of insulation and laughed as he said a complete sewage treatment system had to be installed for three toilets. The bird designs on the windows were to break up reflections so birds do not fly into them.

He invited any of the tour members to return for a closer look at the center. They did hike the native gardens before leaving. For information call (610) 760-8889.

Sue Tantsits, co-owner of Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery on Route 100, said everything in the nursery is native except for a few heritage fruit trees. She and Louise Schaefer started the nursery in her backyard and moved to a 10-acre site.

She said she has a passion for native plants that have evolved with the local ecology and animal life what was here when European settlement started.

Tantsits said there is an educational component to the nursery. The plants are not only beautiful but sustainable requiring much less care and water than plants from other areas as well as being suitable for use by native animals.

Schaefer said all plants have detailed signage. She passed out cards listing future calendar events and a discount card before inviting tour members to "just wander around."

On Aug. 21 there will be a native plant hike at Lehigh Gap, and Sept. 10 is a fall festival at the nursery. For information call (610) 395-2570.

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