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Conservancy groups raise trail awareness

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Cathy Frankenberg brought a map of the proposed Highlands trail network.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Cathy Frankenberg brought a map of the proposed Highlands trail network.
Published March 19. 2012 05:02PM

A group of organizations interested in the environment met at the Lehigh Gap Nature on March 10 to compare notes on what is going on in their respective groups.

The goal of the meeting was to raise awareness of the trails and the need to preserve them, said Paul Schubert of the Philadelphia Hiking Club and Appalachian Trail Club, who welcomed everyone to the annual gathering.

He said everyone pooling resources for creating, building and developing consciousness to the general public is something valuable. He added that most of the meetings have been private and should be available to the public.

Present at the center were Anne Griffin of the Allentown Hiking Club, Drew Gilchrist of the Natural Lands Trust; Cathy Frankenberg of the Appalachian Mountain Club; Scott Everett, trail manager at the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Corridor group and Bud Cook representing the Nature Conservancy.

Everett said the D&L has had a busy year. A15-mile continuous section of the trail from the Carbon County line to the boat launch at West Bowmans ties that area to Northampton and Cementon. All trails are packed and there is a parking spillover.

"We want people to use the boat launch area for parking," he said.

Of the total 165 miles of trail, 30 are in Carbon County. One section being built by Walsh Construction, which is responsible for the turnpike bridges, will go to Weissport. The final section will cross Route 895 at West Bowmans.

He said areas adjacent to the trail benefit from its being there. Everett said they have a problem with explaining that though the group is a 501c3 nonprofit, it does not own any of the trail.

Dan Kunkle, center director, said the Pennsylvania Audubon Society meets quarterly and talks about the Kittatinny Ridge and has invited other groups to their meetings.

Kunkle said that signs with D&L on them are helpful.

The 60-year-old Natural Lands Trust is based in Delaware County but its area of concern is eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said Gilchrist. The trust, which owns or manages 20,000 acres, has a three-point program: to save and be stewards of the land and connect people with nature.

It has 3,200 acres on the Lehigh Rover north of the Francis Walter Dam. However, that piece is not yet open to the public since they want to put trails in.

He works as an open space consultant and sees more townships holding open space referendums. Buffers are encouraged, invasive plants removed and succession controlled as open fields return to forest.

The plan is to keep large areas of meadow. Supervisors see cost savings by naturalization of water basins. This provides habitat as well as leaves a smaller footprint than concrete.

Deer pressure is damaging urban area parks and the guy on the mower has to learn new methods.

"You try to change behavior," said Gilchrist.

Schubert said in south Jersey some areas are planted with wildflowers along the roads. He said stormwater should be infiltrated into the ground and with an inch or less 80 percent is.

Kunkle said the center is the only superfund site in the country that has become a wildlife center. Washington is watching because the Environmental Protection Agency had not been thinking about reuse as the Center and the brownfield programs are now doing.

On March 12, planes were to begin planting remaining areas including 3,000 acres of National Park Service land along the Appalachian. Resource islands - fenced areas to block deer - will be planted with oaks and chestnut trees.

CBS has been the responsible party for revegetating the mountain and Kunkle says "They've been amazing."

About 5,000 students visit each year from kindergarteners to grad students. For the fourth year, medical students are studying health issues. From high school up, research projects are undertaken.

The trails are popular because they loop and have views rather than just forest. The Center partners with other organizations. "Partners" is a word Kunkle uses frequently.

Griffin said the hiking club maintains two shelters, 11 miles of trail and one privy. Twenty people of the 200-member club form a base that does trail work. She said they appreciate other trails that are open to them.

A concern is the towers going up threatening the ridge. She said their philosophy is what they can give back.

She said Myron Avery planned the Appalachian Trail and added that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Created in the mid-1920s cares for the area from Harrisburg to the Lehigh Gap, the experience created in much of the area is like "walking through tree tunnels."

Frankenberg belongs to the Appalachian Mountain Club and is trying to get funding for conservation work to protect the Highlands through special zoning. She brought a map showing the area where work is being done.

She said 70 percent has been cut from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources budget. The Keystone Fund has been cut completely.

"They are raiding the environment to fix the general fund," Frankenberg said.

The club wants to protect public lands in the Marcellus shale area. Hikes are being led to show the overlap between parks and the shale areas.

The Highlands area stretches from Riegelsville to the border with Maryland. They are currently identifying ownership of a trail network.

Cook said the Nature Conservancy protects 120 million acres around the world in partnership with other groups. There are 5,000 river miles and several marine preserves, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Two million acres are owned making it the second largest privately owned system in the country. Media mogul Ted Turner has the largest.

The conservancy is helping create the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more money for acquiring easements than Fish and Wildlife because it is not totally dependent on government funds.

There are talks with American Water Corporation to protect 5,000 acres with interest waxing and waning but now it is changing officials and he is hopeful. The conservancy would provide a land management plan for the north side of the ridge - the south side is residential.

The conservancy lobbied in the early 1970s for the endangered species act. It partnered with Northampton and Lehigh County for an open space referendum and also with Monroe County. It is working to obtain funding through a Land and Water fund from which grants can be made.

It does not publicize conservation easements because many of them are on private land. DCNR funding requires public use.

Kunkle said the ecological thought was that parkland had to be returned to what it originally was, but the center owns its land. The EPA and CBS both liked its idea of grasslands but now gray birch is spreading and takes up the metals in the soil. The center is negotiating for test burns hot enough to kill the birch but cool enough to let the grasses grow.

Schubert said there much the public can learn - lifelong learning - and possible careers.

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