Educational programs for the public and visiting schools, scouts, and special interest groups are standard fare at the preserve. One of the most popular programs is the annual maple sugaring operation, which gives visitors a look into the history and tradition of making maple syrup.
What happens when people neglect what they’ve built? At Housenick Park, people can watch it happen. The majesty of the seasons, combined with the impermanence of building materials, offers a four-season show with free admission. It’s my secret pleasure, a jewel of almost one hundred acres only five miles north of my home. Once the estate of Archibald Johnston, the city of Bethlehem’s first mayor, it’s now a public park in the heart of the Lehigh Valley.
Along with an estimated 1.1 million annual visitors, I have personally walked, jogged, bicycled, fished, cross-country skied, kayaked, and climbed cliffs in the park. Best of all, I currently help plan and execute large and small infrastructure and maintenance projects. On a lovely day any visitor will encounter people of all ages and backgrounds reveling in the opportunity to be outdoors away from the noise, press, heat, or cold wind of the concrete, asphalt, and steel metropolis.
The adult hawks remained at Hildacy throughout the year. Many red-shouldered hawks migrate south in the fall, but apparently this pair was able to continue to find enough food to sustain them through the cold months. When spring arrived, the pair constructed a new nest less than a hundred yards from the Natural Lands Trust office building. During the construction of the nest, both birds were often seen and heard flying over the office and defending their territory.
During a particularly exciting bird walk along the creek with community residents on May 10, 2014 I was amazed by the sheer numbers of migrating songbirds that we were finding– from Worm-eating, Blue-winged, and Bay-breasted Warblers to Gray-cheeked Thrushes and a White-eyed Vireo–when up popped a Red-headed Woodpecker. Our excitement nearly tripled as we got to see this beautiful but rare bird for an extended period of time.
We issued the invitation, and people volunteered. During the next four years, thousands of people, from Pennsylvania and beyond, visited the park to try their hand at archaeology, learning about local history as they carefully uncovered brick, nails, pottery, glass, and more at the historical site. Some people even planned vacations around a park visit, having learned of the Public Archaeology Dig from the Conde Nast publication, Cookie, and an airline magazine.
As an undergraduate student, I used to walk to Musser Gap from my dorm room on campus to spend a weekend or more backpacking. In the past few years, trails were created that connect Musser Gap to Shingletown Gap and the Mid-State Trail–one could start a hike at Musser Gap and hike for weeks without leaving the woods.
My personal connection with Thousand Steps stems from many years ago when my parents took me there are a child. As an adult, it was one of the first places that I brought my wife when we were dating and she was new to the area. Now, later in life, I continue to bring my children, friends, and family on hikes there. Currently I enjoy running the trails in the area, and Thousand Steps is a great place to begin or finish a long run.
The past four years working as a Nature Preschool teacher have been incredibly eye-opening. The benefits of getting kids outside unfold right before my eyes. I’ve learned that the best type of learning happens organically. It is meaningful, relevant, and exciting. True learning happens when you discover answers to your questions first hand. At Nature Preschool we work to do just that. We use the trails, ponds, streams, leaves, and every little crevice under a log to learn.
Just off Route 51, two miles north of Beaver Borough, is Bradys Run Park, the largest of the Beaver County parks. Situated within Brighton and Patterson Townships, Bradys Run Park’s 2,000-plus acres offer outdoor enthusiasts a plethora of recreational activities and venues. Bradys Run offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities: there are picnic shelters, athletic fields, tennis courts, an off-leash dog area, basketball courts, a skate park, a street hockey rink, a horse arena, a 1-mile walking and jogging loop, 12 miles of trails, and playgrounds.
When people come to Lacawac they are thrilled to see such an oasis in the middle of the woods. They identify with the need to get back to nature. No matter who you are or what time period you live in, there is always this very human urge to connect with the outdoors and its inhabitants.
Moosic Mountain is also unique in that it is close to an urban area, yet still provides impressive scenery and biodiversity…This was an excellent and diverse hike with unique scenery and superb views. The Eales Preserve is a beautiful place that we are lucky to have protected and opened to the public. This is a place you need to explore.
The benefits and opportunities that our Climbers Run visits provided to Horizons students cannot be overstated. No amount of reading, video-watching, or even walking around the school could recreate the experiences that our students have had there. In addition to the invaluable hands-on science education they received, they also learned to take healthy risks, to persevere, to work together, and to ask questions. Best of all, they learned to respect and to enjoy nature.
South of Pittsburgh, Bear Run Nature Reserve is one of my favorite summer and early fall birding destinations in the Appalachian Mountains. Nestled in the Laurel Highlands, the 4,500-acre preserve has roughly 20 miles of trails that meander alongside several creeks and through hemlock groves, with scenic panoramas overlooking the Youghiogheny River.
We followed the Hawk Trail, marked by orange bird silhouettes, and reached the top within 20 minutes or so, including the inevitable stops to inspect a wandering bug or interesting leaf. The trail is steep and rocky which was a fun change from the gentler nature trails my kids are used to, but the short distance kept the hike very do-able.
Every day the Muncy Heritage Park and Nature Trail is being used by young and old alike to experience nature. We see singles, couples, and family groups enjoying the loop trail around the pond, taking in the solitude of the towpath through the woods or standing along the Susquehanna River watching the bald eagles in flight. We have canoers, bikers, birders, and brides all using the park. The local high school takes science and history field trips to the park.
The Silver Lake Nature Preserve is a perfect habitat for the luna moth, which is only found here in North America. The Preserve is home for all of the major host trees that the caterpillar loves to eat, especially the sweet gum tree that exists here in abundance. Without this type of tree, the luna moth caterpillar may not have enough nourishment during the summer and may not have the protection it needs to survive the long, cold winters of this region.
The island hosts a unique floodplain hardwood forest which provides habitat for a distinctive flora, including several species the WPMC has found nowhere else, such as Calvatia rugosa, a golden yellow puffball. So far, the survey has identified about 75 species on the island, but we still add new species on every walk due to small variations in season and fruiting conditions. The real species count is likely much higher.
The children spend time at Conklin Run to learn about how insect diversity and abundance, temperature, and clarity can be used to determine stream health. We also spread out large tarps when we do arts and crafts with natural items like fallen leaves and twigs.
Places like Silver Lake Preserve are incredibly important, not just for the environmental ethics of protecting such habitats for the animals, but because we are part of nature and we have become increasingly estranged from it in today’s modern society. People of all ages need to have a place to come back home to, a place to find peace and see the beauty and magic of our natural world.