On a peaceful, cloudy day in upstate New York on November 3, 2016, the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta played host to the first annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, a chance for upper watershed and Chesapeake Bay representatives to engage with one another and create connections for sharing watershed restoration and protection resources. Communication and collaboration, the unofficial themes of the day, were evident throughout. Opening remarks were a joint effort from Maryland and New York, with Lou Etgen from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Les Hasbargen from SUNY Oneonta addressing the crowd. They were followed by Mike Lovegreen of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, who echoed much the same in his State of the Upper Watershed: “We need to address the whole watershed.”
The Upper Susquehanna River forms the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and is unique in that 99 percent of its headwaters are protected and managed by a network of soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) working together as the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC). USC’s structure allows SWCDs, which are established by state law and work to develop locally-driven solutions for natural resource concerns, to enter into multi-district agreements with a memorandum of understanding. These SWCDs work within their own locality, but also use these agreements to share equipment and training with one another. Together, these districts voluntarily work to improve water quality and quality of life for the 7,500 square miles under their care.
The area is overwhelmingly forested—close to 70 percent—which led farms to be built along the banks of streams, directly in the floodplains. “[Sediment pollution] is not running off the farms. It’s the farmland itself” that is eroding away, explained Lovegreen. Following Lovegreen’s State of the Watershed was a local government panel and examples of successful best management practices, or BMPs, with much of the conversation focused on stream restoration.
Communities take a local approach in the Upper Susquehanna, coming together to address streams in every way possible: at the source, across the landscape, in the stream corridor and with programs. Efforts are guided by the USC’s three focus areas: stream corridor rehabilitation, environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture and wetland restoration. “[The strategy] is a comprehensive public participation approach,” explained Tioga County SWCD’s Wendy Walsh. “Farms and communities have trust in the SWCDs, and that’s how we get things done.” Some restoration work might be triggered by forces of nature, but the effort to address it is personal and actionable.
Discussion of successful BMP efforts allowed opportunities for attendees to problem solve comparable programs in their own areas of the watershed; themed table discussions during the lunch hour provided networking and platforms for creative solutions. Participants left that day to return to their home organizations with individual commitments toward continued restoration and protection activities, and with a desire for more engagement in the future with their colleagues across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
With continued conferences that provide connections for the work being done all across the watershed and the actions that result from them, the vision of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition may be realized: a well-functioning Susquehanna River headwaters in harmony with itself and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Michael McMahon walked between two adjacent fields of tall, swaying corn in Homer, New York, to point out an invisible boundary running through his family farm.
Water to the north of that boundary, he explained, eventually flows into Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. But any rain or snow falling to the south ends up in Factory Brook, which flows into the Tioughnioga River, then the Chenango River, the Susquehanna River, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
About 30 percent of McMahon’s E-Z Acres Farm, which Michael McMahon owns with his brother Peter McMahon, feeds into the water supply of the city of Syracuse. The larger southern section rests above the groundwater aquifer that is the only water supply for the village of Homer, which abuts the southern end of the farm and is home to 25,000 people. As their business has grown, the McMahons’ awareness of their farm’s potential impact on their neighbors has led them to be fervent stewards and engage their community—for the benefit of both local streams and faraway bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay.
“The end of our tillable land is only about 200 yards from the big municipal well (in Homer),” McMahon said. “It’s extremely productive ground, but at the same time you could be really doing some damage if you weren’t conscious of it.”
E-Z Acres began with McMahon’s father in 1957, a dairy operation with 160 acres and just eight heifers. Now, their 2,500 acres stretch across much of the valley above Homer in Cortland County.
“The 1400 head that are on the place today all come from those eight heifers,” McMahon said. “We never purchased any animals.”
McMahon says that early advice from his father made it easier to adopt nutrient management practices when the dairy consolidated four separate facilities into one large operation about 20 years ago.
“Even back, as far back as the 60s, we were taught from our dad that you get manure on all the fields, you don’t just concentrate on where it’s easiest and quickest,” McMahon said. “So it was easy for us to transition to a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] where we have all those plans there in the blue notebooks that tell us exactly what field, what time of the year, how many gallons, all of that.”
In 1997, after the consolidation, the McMahons decided to start testing water for nitrates and phosphorus quarterly at five different sites in the valley.
“Nobody ever told us we had to do this,” McMahon said. “But, we just wanted to know if our agronomic practices were in line, that we weren’t going to see spikes in nitrates in well water.”
The tests are also useful for easing worried minds of residents in Homer, and where foul smells wafting from farm fields sometimes cause worries about water quality.
“You’ll get concerns and typically it’s odor-initiated, when we’re spreading manure,” McMahon said.
McMahon said E-Z Acres has grown by purchasing neighboring farms as they have come for sale over the past several decades, and their management practices have extended to these lands. For example, he observed that every farm they bought had its own dump—something his father never believed a farm should have. E-Z Acres subsequently cleared all those dumps.
About five miles of a stream called Factory Brook runs through E-Z Acres, and McMahon said that they have made a concentrated effort to protect what is nearest their cropland, which he estimated at about three and a half to four miles. They have let the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) establish riparian buffers on both sides of Factory Brook by bringing children from 4-H clubs to plant willow wattles, or shrubs. They have also granted public access through DEC for a section of Factory Brook.
“In many cases the farms that we purchased, you know people were cropping right up to the edge, you know, spreading their manure and stuff like that,” McMahon said. “Where we do farm near the stream, we keep that land in permanent grass as opposed to turning the soil over and putting in a row crop,” McMahon said.
McMahon credited his home state as becoming a leader in the Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts by first addressing local watershed issues, which meant that his farm already had many practices in place by the time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in 2010.
“And maybe I’m just biased because I’m in New York, but we got involved in the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program in New York way back in the 80s when they first thought of it.” McMahon said. “We cleaned up dumps. We looked at chemical storage. We did a lot of things way back before it was ever thought to be mandated. And that was all part of New York State’s own program, and not just for the sake of the Chesapeake but for the sake of all watersheds. And we felt at the time I mean we knew that we sat over an aquifer and that we were kind of responsible for keeping the water clean for all these people who either have private or public water supplies derived from this.”
McMahon says they are motivated by trying to “stay ahead of that curve” and “be good neighbors.” For their efforts, the McMahons were awarded the 2015 Agricultural Environmental Management Award by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
E-Z Acres hosts open houses regularly, and every June they welcome all of the fifth grade students in the county—about 400 for each of two days.
“So, that’s a ball,” McMahon said. “In many cases it’s the one and only chance a lot of those kids will have to ever see where milk comes from. So we think it’s a good idea to embrace the community, engage the community and be part of it.”
Text, Photos and Video by Will Parson
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page
At 464 miles in length, the Susquehanna River is the largest in the region and supplies the Bay with about half of its fresh water. This mighty river crosses three state borders, beginning in upstate New York, snaking its way through Pennsylvania and ultimately emptying into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. But while the Susquehanna’s most northern point is in New York, a large branch of the river goes as far west as Blair County, Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna River has an incredibly wide reach, flowing past thousands of acres of beautiful scenery and countless numbers of towns with their own unique history and culture. Whether you’ve lived by the river your whole live or are visiting it for the first time, take a trip down the Susquehanna—and through the Chesapeake region—by exploring these seven spots.
1. Glimmerglass State Park
Glimmerglass State Park offers the chance to experience the Susquehanna River where it begins, just outside of Cooperstown, New York, at Otsego Lake. The park features a trail with views of the lake as well as the self-guided Beaver Pond Nature Trail. Also located in the park is the Hyde Hall Mansion, a National Historic Landmark that’s open for tours from May through October.
2. Roberson Museum and Science Center
Follow the river south to Binghamton, New York, and stop in at Roberson Museum and Science Center. Housed in the Roberson Mansion, the museum features art, local history, science and natural history exhibits. Along with its exhibits, the museum is home to a large model train display—one of the largest in the region—depicting Binghamton and the surrounding landscape.
3. Susquehanna River Water Trail
What better way to see the Susquehanna River than by getting out on it? Experience the river first-hand on the Susquehanna River Water Trail. Consisting of four separate sections—the North Branch, West Branch, Middle Section and Lower Section—the water trail covers all of Pennsylvania’s portion of the Susquehanna River and its western branch, totaling over 500 miles. Complete the North, Middle and Lower sections and you can be a member of the elite 444 Club!
4. Shikellamy State Park
Get a glimpse of the river’s confluence—where the west branch and north branch combine into a single stem—at Shikellamy State Park. Consisting of two separate areas, a marina located on an island at the beginning of the north branch and an overlook on the west side of the west branch, Shikellamy offers a unique view of the confluence of hundreds of miles of river.
5. Sproul State Forest
Explore the Susquehanna’s west branch by visiting Sproul State Forest. Covering over 467 square miles, Sproul is the largest state forest in Pennsylvania, with plenty of space for picnicking, hunting, fishing, boating, camping and trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and ATVs.
6. Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art
Continue down the Susquehanna River to Millersburg, Pennsylvania, and stop into nature and art museum named after hometown artist, naturalist and writer, Ned Smith. The museum, featuring the artist’s work as well as rotating exhibits, sits on over 500 acres of land that contain 12 miles of trails as well as views of the Susquehanna River.
7. Susquehanna Museum
End your trip down the river at the beginning of the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace, Maryland. There you can visit the Susquehanna Museum, located in a building that originally served as the lock house for the Tidewater Canal. The canal spanned the 45 miles between Havre de Grace and Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, creating a link for easy trade among central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The restored lock house now serves as a museum telling the history of the canal and Havre de Grace.
What’s your favorite spot along the Susquehanna River? Tell us in the comments!
Earle Peterson of Cooperstown, New York, owns the nearly 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Peterson works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land, ensuring that it will serve as an educational, aesthetic and environmental resource for the surrounding community for years to come.
With Peterson behind the wheel of his old pickup truck, he took our photographer on a tour of Greenwoods on a spring day last year. Passing a roadside pond, he observed a couple of Canada geese.
“These aren’t corporate geese—these are wild ones,” Peterson said. “Now these same geese could very well winter in Chesapeake—and follow the river from beginning to end.”
As the truck bounced over dirt and gravel roads, the conversation shifted to the Susquehanna River, and Peterson was succinct in his thoughts, as someone who lives much closer to its headwaters in Cooperstown than its mouth in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
“It isn’t just that wide expanse down there,” Peterson said.
Learn more about Peterson and The Greenwoods Conservancy.
Throughout Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, we'll be sharing the stories of people who live, work and play in the Chesapeake region. Join the conversation on social media: #HumansOfTheChesapeake
Image by Will Parson
With gleaming silos and an expansive field of grass that doubles as a concert venue, Brewery Ommegang cuts a scenic profile against the lush forested hills of bucolic Cooperstown, New York. But just across the road, a nondescript concrete building is dedicated to a brew of a different sort. You can’t see it from ground level, but climbing a set of metal stairs reveals a dark amber surface calmly bubbling, releasing a pungent but recognizable aroma.
“You can smell the beer,” says Ommegang brewery manager Joe Poliseno.
Standing directly above the 150,000-gallon aeration basin of Ommegang’s wastewater treatment plant does bring to mind the smell of skunked beer. It is the destination for a pipe that carries all the production waste from the brewery—municipal and human waste is handled differently. Like a miracle in reverse, this is where the leftovers of an alcoholic beverage are turned back into water.
While yeast is fundamental to brewing beer, different microorganisms play a central role in breaking down Ommegang’s liquid waste. The process removes almost all the nitrogen and phosphorus from the water leaving the plant, keeping excess nutrients out of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
“Usually it's 99.9 percent removal [of nitrogen and phosphorus],” Poliseno says. “That's pretty amazing—we meet our regulations and far pass them.”
The fermentation that makes beer and other alcoholic beverages is an anaerobic process, meaning it has to occur in the absence of oxygen. The waste process, however, is aerobic. The large blowers deliver oxygen to an activated sludge made of living microorganisms. The sludge takes about eight days to cycle through the aeration basin’s membrane bioreactor that filters the wastewater.
The sludge is mostly bacteria but also tiny animals like rotifers and nematodes. As Poliseno describes it, he could be describing cattle rotated on fields of grass.
“All those hungry organisms will be brought right back to where the feed is so they can break down even faster, because they'll be super hungry at that point,” Poliseno says.
As the bacteria eat, they grow and reproduce. The excess sludge is pressed dry and harvested as a valuable biomass that farmers spread on their fields.
With all the work being done by microorganisms, most of the people power at the plant goes to lab analyses that keep the operation running smoothly.
“I was surprised once I got into it, how much science happens here,” says Ommegang publicity manager Allison Capozza. “Brewing itself is very much kind of a combination of cooking and science.”
Capozza says that Ommegang’s location was determined in part by the fact that it is the site of a former hops farm, and also by the quality of the aquifer it sits on, which Ommegang taps with three wells.
“It’s just the most perfect water you could hope for, for beer,” Capozza says, standing on the edge of the grass. “For us, from a business standpoint it’s a no-brainer that we do everything we can to protect the water, because beer is 90 to 95 percent water.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
At Endless Trails Farm in Hubbardsville, N.Y., Troy Bishopp is looking for cow pies.
“There’s a little bit there, but overall there isn’t a whole lot of manure,” he says, explaining to the farm's manager. “Every rotation we’re going to want more.”
Bishopp is a conservation specialist with New York’s Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, and among the services he provides is advice on how grassland farmers can get the most out of their pastures. With 30 years of experience, he has learned to pay attention to the subtleties that only come with walking out in a field and talking with farmers.
“I’m constantly looking, because wherever that cow manure lands is where there’s going to be more grass than not,” Bishopp says. This passion for grass has led to him being called the Grass Whisperer, a moniker first bestowed on him by his friend Dick Warner during a visit to Washington to educate congressional districts about grass-based agriculture in New York.
Bishopp has worked with Endless Trails Farm for about eight years, first to set up some conservation practices like stream buffers, then helping with fencing and offering rotational grazing advice. When he visits a farm, his tools are cheap—a plastic grazing stick helps him assess how many pounds of feed are in a pasture, and a reel of electrified tape lets him keep animals on and off sections of pasture, a practice he prescribed for Endless Trails.
“There was no real system of fencing or paddock rotation [on this farm]. And so usually in July and August there wasn’t a whole lot of grass here,” Bishopp says. “Implementing strategic fencing, water spots around the farm, water tubs, and then allowing the grass and the pastures to rest for a month or two, always made a lot of grass which actually sequestered any rain that came, which is huge up here.”
The water infiltration resulted in more grass for cattle at the farm, and also less runoff, including sediment and nutrients, running into streams and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. In 2011, the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District named Endless Trails its Conservation Farm of the Year.
“Generally speaking, we want to retain our topsoil, have good water infiltration and keep the waters clean,” Bishopp says. “When you produce a lot of feed and you do those things that make you money, conservation comes right along with it.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Video, Images and Text by Will Parson
Resting on the northern edge of the Appalachian plateau—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—are the 1,200 acres of land that make up The Greenwoods Conservancy. Earle Peterson, owner of the property, works with the Otsego Land Trust to permanently preserve the land through conservation easement. In addition to ensuring that the land remains undeveloped, it will serve as an educational, visual and environmental resource for the surrounding community, as well as a place protect the valued plants and wildlife that are indigenous to central New York.
The seven conservation easements that make up the conservancy were obtained over time, with the first purchase in 1993 and the final plot added in 2001. “Earle has what we at Otsego Land Trust call a ‘conservation heart,’” explained Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust. “Meaning that the desire to protect land and water lives inside him at the very heart of who he is. Protecting the lands of The Greenwoods Conservancy meant protecting a place that is both special for and necessary to, not just Earle, but the whole community who benefits when lands like the lands of Greenwoods are conserved.”
A diverse array of landscapes make up the conservancy: from a high elevation cranberry bog that provides habitat for many rare wetland species, to a sustainably managed forest for timber products, to meadows that are maintained for bird habitat and used by SUNY Oneonta for research and education. Conserving all of the land has taken a great deal of time, but to Peterson, it is all worth it in the name of conservation. “I told my wife [when we got married], ‘You have to understand that I have a mistress, and her name is Mother Nature. And like most mistresses, she’s very expensive,’” Peterson said.
This is the final installment in a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
To many people, the concept of home can be a visceral experience, a concept that churns up a number of varied memories and emotions. In its most basic form, home refers to a place where one lives permanently—but to someone like Marion Karl, a seasoned traveler as a daughter of missionaries, it serves as a place to lay down deep roots in a community, a place that deserves to be preserved and protected.
Karl purchased her land on Otsego Lake—just outside of Cooperstown, New York—in three different parcels. “As soon as we [Karl and her husband] bought our house, I started looking for land,” Karl explained. “Now, I have 173 acres, which I bought in three different parcels. I bought 100 with the first purchase. Later on, a lumber company wanted to come in to cut some trees across the way and I thought, ‘That would be terrible,’” leading her to purchase the remaining property and place it under conservation easement though the Otsego Land Trust in 2008 to ensure its protection is in perpetuity.
Over the years, Karl’s property has embodied the sense of ‘home’ for her and her family, and now it will be preserved for generations to come. “When I walk with Marion on her land, her love for the forests and fields of her protected place is evident in her eyes, her conversation, and the way she knows every inch of the paths we travel,” said Virginia Kennedy, Executive Director of the Otsego Land Trust.
This is the second of a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserves the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Photos by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
As the planet continues its steady climb toward an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050, population centers are trending toward sprawling urban areas. Despite the convenience of metropolitan areas, the hustle and bustle of it all has many like Cat Gareth—owner of 14 acres of land along Ouleout Creek in Delaware County, New York—seeking solace in natural areas. She recalls the winter of 1988, when, as a resident of Brooklyn, she set out to find her own place of solitude. “I was looking at places by myself and pulled onto that piece of property and said, ‘This is it. This is the place.’”
The steeply wooded hillside and cobble-bottomed creeks of the property presented an opportunity for Gareth to examine and cherish often overlooked aspects of the local environment. “You could say that it was the architect of its own conservation because, by learning what it taught me, I came to value it enough to preserve it and allow it to evolve undisturbed and educate others,” Gareth said.
Gareth placed the property under conservation easement through the Otsego Land Trust in 2014 to ensure its protection for generations to come. “I am too close to the land to speak more formally about what this conservation easement will mean to this land's ecology, its water, its wildlife, the sustainability of this fragment of the natural world, but I do hope that it survives as what I have known it to be—a habitat for the human spirit.”
This is the first of a series of three profiles of property owners that are protecting their land through the Otsego Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the natural heritage of woodlands, farmlands and waters that sustain rural communities, promote public health, support wildlife diversity and inspire the human spirit.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Photos by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and resiliency, may be a common sight today, but just a few decades ago toxic pollutants working their way up the food chain had the species toeing the line of extinction. Prevalent use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a harmful insecticide, on agricultural fields caused eagles to produce eggs that were too delicate to support the incubating bird, lowering hatch rates in a drastic way. The decline was so severe that by DDT’s ban in 1972, only 482 breeding pairs were left throughout the entire continental United States.
Following the ban, one nesting pair of bald eagles remained in the state of New York, and their eggs were too contaminated with chemicals to be considered a viable means of repopulation. Restoration efforts began across the nation, but two researchers in particular, Peter Nye from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Tom Cade of Cornell University put New York on the map as a key player in eagle repopulation tactics. They took to using an ancient falconry practice called hacking to raise eaglets in a controlled, but wild, environment, to ensure that the birds would learn the proper survival techniques to independently prosper after fledging the nest.
“Their goal was to establish 12 nesting pairs in New York. By 1988, they had achieved the goal of 12 nesting pairs, and here we are in 2015 with more than 300. I know down in Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay area there are even more, so the reintroduction has been very successful,” said Michael Clark, Senior Wildlife Biologist for New York DEC. Clark and his colleague Scott Van Arsdale, Wildlife Technician for New York DEC, were mentored by Nye, and have taken over the legwork of tagging and monitoring the birds since Nye’s retirement.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
The calm, mirror-like surface of Otsego Lake is the subject of history and legend. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper, the author describes the lake in his work The Deerslayer as “a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods.” The narrow, finger-like lake runs nine miles from north to south, coming to a point at Cooperstown, New York, where it marks the start of the Susquehanna River. Hop into a boat and follow the current, and a winding, 464-mile journey downriver will eventually drop you in the Chesapeake Bay. At first glance, the lake’s tranquil surface may seem humble beginnings for a mighty river that churns billions of gallons of fresh water into the nation’s largest estuary each day. But Otsego is a flurry of activity, home to a rich diversity of critters, habitats and ecosystems.
Alongside the shores of Otsego Lake sits the Biological Field Station, a laboratory that serves the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta, where researchers work year-round to study and preserve the lake. In 1967, the field station began as a 365-acre donation from the Clark Family Foundation. Now, the field station’s facilities— which include the main laboratory, a farm and boathouse, and various research sites and conserved lands—span more than 2,600 acres. Director Bill Harman, a professor of biology, has led the Biological Field Station for the entirety of its more than 40 year existence. As resident Otsego expert, Harman oversees the monitoring, research, training, workshops and field trips at the field station’s facilities.
Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant across the waters, marshes and forests surrounding Otsego Lake. Field trips, summer internships and general research bring kindergarteners through post-graduates to the field station’s facilities. Students of SUNY Oneonta’s Master of Lake Management program—the first such program in North America—complete their studies at the Biological Field Station, sampling, monitoring and researching the waters of Otsego and other nearby lakes. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.
Though located far from the Chesapeake Bay itself, Otsego Lake suffers from many of the same issues threatening the estuary, like nutrient pollution and a rise in invasive species. Zebra mussels and purple loosestrife—two infamous invasive species plaguing the watershed—have overtaken much of the lake and surrounding lands. Once a rich source of shad, herring and eels, downstream dams have blocked many of these fish from migrating to the lake. But Harman and his colleagues don’t see Otsego as a closed system. As they collect their data and monitor the lake, they are actively seeking solutions that could be applied across the region.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith
Before the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay, before it churns through Conowingo Dam, and before it winds through the farmlands of Pennsylvania, it begins its 464-mile journey with a calm exit from Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, New York. Every Memorial Day weekend, an assortment of canoe and kayak paddlers share the first 70 miles of that journey, taking in the green landscape of central New York during the General Clinton Canoe Regatta.
This year, over 200 vessels entered the full course from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, with most holding two or more paddlers. Entrants came from across the country, and Canada was also well represented — English and French could be heard throughout the race. Paddlers shouted as they portaged their vessels past spectators at three dams. Support crews cheered while making quick, timesaving handoffs of energy drinks and food. Shallow water following a dry spring season may have slowed things down this year, but the racers remained focused, and the leading professional team still finished in less than eight hours.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images and text by Will Parson.
Last year, our partners opened 17 boat ramps, fishing piers and other sites that grant public access to rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia opened 14 sites, while Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York each opened one. There are now 1,225 public places that allow people across the watershed to walk, play, swim, fish and launch their paddleboats, sailboats and powerboats into the water.
Partnerships between local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations have been essential in developing these sites: a soft launch for paddlecraft opened on the Chickahominy River with support from the James River Association. Walking trails, wildlife viewing platforms and interpretive signs were built on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land along Mount Landing Creek with support from the Virginia State Park Youth Conservation Corps. And a boat dock, wildlife viewing platform and public pavilion, as well as fishing access, were established at the Zimmerman Center for Heritage on the Susquehanna River with support from Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Department of Transportation, as well as the National Park Service and local donors.
As development continues across the watershed, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high. State, federal and local governments are often the guardians of these places, providing opportunities for everyone to enjoy the region’s natural and cultural bounty. Because physical access to the Bay and its tributaries remains limited—with real consequences for quality of life, the economy and long-term conservation—our partners set a goal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement to bring the total number of access sites in the watershed to 1,439 by 2025. And because public access to open space and waterways can create citizen stewards who care for local resources and engage in conservation, we track public access as an indicator of our progress toward fostering environmental stewardship.
“As an avid kayaker, I know the importance of having access to rivers, creeks and streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “As we come to know the resource through access to it, we will understand its value. Once we know its value, we will be more inclined to take actions to protect it. Public access is critical to restoring this vital ecosystem.”
Farmers, foresters and an active coalition of landowners and citizens have been honored for their efforts to conserve, restore and celebrate Chesapeake forests.
From planting native trees and shrubs to engaging students in forest conservation, the actions of the winners from across the watershed crowned them Chesapeake Forest Champions in an annual contest sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Image courtesy Piestrack Forestlands LLC
Three farmers were named Exemplary Forest Stewards: Ed Piestrack of Nanticoke, Pa., and Nelson Hoy and Elizabeth Biggs of Williamsville, Va. Ed Piestrack and his wife, Wanda, manage 885 acres of forestland and certified Tree Farm in Steuben County, N.Y. The Piestracks have controlled invasive plants and rebuilt vital habitat on their property, installing nest boxes, restoring vernal pools and planting hundreds of trees on land that will remain intact and managed when it is transferred to their children.
Image courtesy Berriedale Farms
Close to 400 miles south in the Cowpasture River Valley sits Berriedale Farms, where Nelson Hoy and Elizabeth Biggs manage land that forms a critical corridor between a wildlife refuge and a national forest. Hoy and Biggs have integrated their 50-acre Appalachian hardwood forest into their farm operation, protecting the landscape while finding a sustainable source of income in their low-impact horse-powered forest products business.
Image courtesy Zack Roeder
Forest Resource Planner Zack Roeder was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public for his work as a forester in Pennsylvania’s largely agricultural Franklin and Cumberland counties. There, Roeder helped farmers manage and implement conservation practices on their land and helped watershed groups plant streamside forest buffers. Roeder also guided a high school in starting a “grow out” tree nursery and coordinated Growing Native events in local communities, using volunteers to collect native hardwood and shrub seeds for propagation.
Image courtesy Savage River Watershed Association
The Savage River Watershed Association in Frostburg, Md., was commended for the Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. In a watershed whose streamside trees have shaded waterways and provided critical habitat to Maryland’s rare reproducing brook trout fisheries, the organization has worked to conserve area forests, removing invasive plants and putting more than 4,000 red spruce seedlings into the ground.
Once bustling with flour mills, furniture factories and dye shops, Towanda, Pennsylvania’s industrial feel differs from the quaint, historic atmosphere of Annapolis, Maryland. And with 246 miles between the two cities, it’s easy to forget they’re both part of the same Chesapeake Bay watershed.
(Image courtesy Slideshow Bruce/Flickr)
Towanda, located in northeastern Pennsylvania, is considered the southernmost point of the upper Susquehanna watershed, an area that drains into the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. The 7,500-square-mile region between Towanda and Morrisville, New York, contains more miles of streams than roads.
This is the region where the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) works to enhance water quality and protect natural resources. The 19 soil and conservation districts that make up USC understand that enhancing the Susquehanna’s headwaters (where a stream or river begins) is critical to restoring the Chesapeake Bay. If the water flowing into the Susquehanna River is not clean from the start, it certainly won’t get cleaner as it passes through riverside towns including Binghamton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg and Havre de Grace.
What does USC do?
USC is developing environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture projects that empower family farmers while implementing conservation practices such as agricultural fencing that prevents animal waste from entering streams.
Stream corridor rehabilitation
Stream rehabilitation projects improve a stream’s health and habitat potential. Forest buffer plantings along stream banks hold soil in place, keep streams cool and reduce flooding. Stream bank erosion prevention measures reduce the amount of sediment that flows into a stream and eventually the Bay.
Because wetland plants can retain water during heavy rainstorms, restoring and enhancing wetlands is an important step to reduce flooding. Wetlands also provide wildlife habitat and reduce pollution by absorbing and filtering out harmful sediment and nutrients.
(Image courtesy AllianceForTheBay/Flickr)
More from the upper Susquehanna basin:
Six of the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions – Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia – have submitted their final cleanup plans as part of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a “pollution diet” that aims to put in place all restoration measures needed for a clean Bay by 2025.
The final cleanup plans, officially known as Phase 2 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), were submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last Friday. New York submitted its draft plan, and is working with the EPA to finalize that plan.
The cleanup plans were developed by each individual state and the District, working closely with counties, municipalities and other local partners. The cleanup plans identify specific restoration measures each jurisdiction will take to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Bay and its local rivers.
According to the guidelines set in the TMDL, at least 60 percent of necessary pollution reductions must be achieved by 2017. Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to putting all needed pollution control measures in place no later than 2025.
Visit the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL website to review and learn more about the cleanup plans.
The story of upstate New York's Cayuta Creek begins as all good stories do: once upon a time, when – according to local folklore – a young and talented princess named Kayutah was born into a local Seneca tribe. Kayutah was so extraordinary that one of the neighboring tribes kidnapped her. Her devastated mother cried so many tears that they filled the entire valley, creating what is now known as Cayuta Lake.
(Image courtesy Chris Waits/Flickr)
Cayuta Lake, known locally as Little Lake, drains north to south instead of south to north, just like the nearby Finger Lakes. It empties into the 40-mile-long Cayuta Creek, which meanders south before emptying into the Susquehanna River. Cayuta Lake’s waters, or “Kayuta's tears," travel some 300 miles south before reaching the Chesapeake Bay!
Although the aforementioned legend affirms that the lake was born out of sadness, the surrounding region is now a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers alike. Like most of the region’s small lakes, Cayuta Lake completely freezes during the winter, offering opportunities for ice skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There have even been reports of people racing their cars on the lake – although we don’t endorse that idea!
Cayuta Lake and the surrounding areas provide a pristine habitat for rare plants and animals. The best example is a freshwater sponge (Spongilla) that is so sensitive to pollution and human disturbances that the only other place in the world it can be found is Siberia! The sponge lives in the Cayuta Inlet, an area known as the James W. and Helene D. Allen Preserve that’s a favorite study spot of Cornell University students. These sponges are the only food source for the Spongilla fly, a rare insect.
And where there are insects, there are also...fly fishermen! Freshwater trout are abundant in Cayuta Lake and Cayuta Creek. But if you don't want to get in the water, the Finger Lakes Trail provides the perfect opportunity to view this scenic stream. The trail runs from Watkins Glen State Park over State Route 228, and follows Cayuta Creek for miles south. Rumor has it that spring is the best time for hikers, as Watkins Glen is home to rare native flowers and ferns. Not to mention the park's magnificent gorge, rapids and waterfalls, formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age.
(Image courtesy She Who Shall Not Be Named/Flickr)
There are plenty of other natural areas surrounding Cayuta Lake and Cayuta Creek. Here are some of my favorites:
On the first Wednesday in December, landowner Ray Lewis proudly looked across one of three recently constructed wetlands on his upstate New York farm. Accompanied by several local organizations involved in the effort, Mr. Lewis explained to Jeff Lape, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, why he had taken on such a project.
“My wife Loddie and I bought this farm several years ago and we’ve done lots of work to improve it. Building these wetlands will catch sediment and farm-related pollution before it enters our creek.”
Lewis was referring to Carr’s Creek, which borders approximately one mile of his farm before joining the upper Susquehanna River near Sidney, New York.
“These wetlands will also contribute to restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay,” Lewis said.
And what compelled Lewis and his wife – who are recent transplants from Philadelphia – to take on such an ambitious project? It started a few years ago, when Lewis attended a meeting of the Sidney Center Improvement Group. There, he learned how landowners could improve local stream conditions through watershed management: conserving and restoring natural areas to protect habitats, the health of local waterways and quality of life in communities.
“It started a couple of years ago when I attended a meeting of the Sidney Center Improvement Group, learned about watershed management and how landowners could improve local stream conditions,” explained Lewis.
After participating in a stream monitoring workshop sponsored by the Improvement Group, Izaak Walton League of America and the National Park Service, Lewis contacted the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition. He soon was approving a design for a series of three wetlands financed in part by the Soil and Water District and constructed by the Coalition.
The Chesapeake Bay Program got involved with this project, hundreds of miles removed from the Bay, when the Sidney Center Improvement Group contacted the Bay Program for assistance managing streams, according to the group's president, Joe Lally. The group was referred to the National Park Service, a partner organization with the Bay Program.
“And we have received hands-on assistance from the Park Service’s Rivers and Trails staff ever since,” Lally said.
Sidney Center is nestled amongst the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in Delaware County, New York. Most may not know it, but this rural community located hundreds of miles from the tidal Chesapeake Bay resides entirely within the Bay’s watershed. Sidney Center lies within the Carrs Creek watershed, a small tributary of the upper Susquehanna River, approximately one hour south of Cooperstown, N.Y.
A very rural area, in recent years this small community has been devastated by catastrophic floods and severe groundwater contamination. “2006 was the worst flood in recent memory,” says Joe Lally, president of the Sidney Center Improvement Group. “Two truck drivers were killed in Carrs Creek when a culvert failed and a portion of Interstate 88 was washed out.” In addition to loss of life, there was destruction of private housing, loss of livestock, and loss of land due to erosion. Most of the community has also been exposed to contaminated groundwater caused by failing septic systems.
Inspired by these issues, Joe, a lifetime resident of the area, and other members of the Community formed the non-profit Sidney Center Improvement Group to address problems in their area. As part of this new effort, the Sidney Center Improvement Group contacted the Chesapeake Bay Program for help dealing with the water resource issues. Joe grabbed the attention of Wink Hastings, who is responsible for assisting local communities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
Wink has been working with the Sidney Center Improvement Group for three years now on addressing land use and water quality issues in the Carrs Creek watershed. In 2008, through funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Wink and the Sidney Center Improvement Group arranged for the assistance of Leah Miller and Mat Webber from the Izaak Walton League Save Our Streams Program to train the community in conducting stream corridor assessments and monitoring water quality in Carrs Creek and a branch of the creek known as Willow Brook.
The community conducted the first stream corridor assessment in September 2008. Local citizens chose various segments of Carrs Creek and Willow Brook and assessed conditions in these segments. The group looked for erosion, cows in streams, trash dumping, fish barriers, and other signs of poor land stewardship. This data was then placed into two GIS databases. The first was an ArcGIS database that can be used for writing a watershed management plan. The second was an online database, designed using Bing Maps, that can be easily accessed by the public. Because of these efforts, the group was featured in an article in the January 2009 edition of Outdoor Life.
The group will begin quarterly water quality sampling in 2010. They have mapped out their sample sites and are looking at engaging local schools and colleges to assist with collecting and organizing the data. They are also looking for funding for resources to purchase monitoring supplies. This fall, at the request of the Improvement Group, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition plans to begin restoration of wetlands within the Carrs Creek watershed to help mitigate flooding problems.
While still very far away from the Chesapeake Bay, it is no less important to engage local communities like Sidney Center. Archaic land use practices (e.g. drainage tiles and ditching in crop fields) are highly prevalent in the watershed. Many landowners are losing large segments of land at an alarming rate due to erosion exacerbated by flooding.
“The beauty of a project like this is that the community is able to meet several objectives through a single, coordinated approach. By helping to improve conditions in the watershed, we are helping improve the quality of life for local citizens, and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Wink says. “Community residents are also learning how to work more effectively with local leaders and institutions; it’s the equivalent of a Civics 101 course.”
With the inevitability of larger, potentially more damaging rainstorms caused by climate change, small watersheds such as Carrs Creek couldexperience higher sedimentation and nutrient loading. However, engaging local communities on how to “hold the line” and maintain healthy conditions in their watershed can help ensure that conditions in the watershed and the Bay are improved and sustained.
The community of Sidney Center still has a long way to go to “fix” the problems in their watershed. Funding is very scarce right now, and they have had difficulty getting noticed by many potential funders. Nevertheless, the group is determined to continue pushing forward to find a solution to their problems. “For the Sidney Center Improvement Group to work on this project, and with help from the Chesapeake Bay Program, we’re not only improving environmental conditions in our watershed but we’re increasing our ability to work as a community,” Joe says. “Thanks to this project, the community has strengthened its relationship with elected officials, Delaware County, and the local school system.
The Sidney Center Improvement Group is made up of an executive board and several workgroups that meet on a monthly basis. The Water Quality workgroup currently meets the third Thursday of every month from 6:30pm-8:00pm in the Sidney Center Library (contact Joe Lally, email@example.com, for more information). The group invites non-profits and government program representatives to come and talk to them about opportunities and partnerships that could help them meet their goals.