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.