By Marisa Sprowles
Turning down the gravel road, visitors begin a journey into Lacawac Sanctuary that takes them away from the everyday hustle and bustle and into a serene and calming environment. As people travel up the slope, past the imposing oak trees, and through the stone gateway, a feeling of wonder sparks their curiosity. Continuing down the gravel road–which at the turn of the 20th century would have be traversed by carriage–the final stop is at the Watres Lodge.
Built in 1903, it is the centerpiece of the Adirondack-style Great Camp located on the shore of Lake Lacawac, an ancient lake formed as the glaciers receded and melted 10,000 years ago. Although there were many of these kettle lakes left behind, few of them are undeveloped and as pristine as Lacawac. Understanding through research, sharing information through education, and preserving what is precious: this is the mission of Lacawac Sanctuary.
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.
Some who visit have been before and return often to reconnect with nature and with the unique history of the land. Those exploring the grounds for the first time are surprised to find such a treasure of both cultural and natural richness. As the environmental educator at Lacawac, I count myself lucky to have this beautiful setting as my office. Sharing it with others is a great privilege. It is always amazing to hear visitors exclaim surprise when they see a pileated woodpecker drumming at a red pine tree or watch a white breasted nuthatch creeping down a beech tree. Whether during a public program, a school field trip, or encountering a visitor who has just finished a self-guided hike, I love hearing people’s stories or questions about Lacawac.
Hosting public programs as well as school field trips allows us to share this beautiful place with others. We take great pride in educating the public and young minds about the importance of preserving the cultural and natural history of not only Lacawac, but of Pennsylvania.
Being a part of what is happening at Lacawac is also a great experience for many of our school-aged visitors. After helping clean and clear a new hiking trail, one Cub Scout pack sent a card. Each of the boys signed it and left a message.
One reads: “Thank you, I had a great time and I felt good about myself from cleaning out the trail.”
Whether helping to clear a trail or helping create an osprey nest platform, many groups come to ensure this special place stays special and that they are giving back to a place that has given them a sense of wonder and enjoyment.
At all times of the year there is something to enjoy at Lacawac. In the winter, the serene snow-covered lake is a beautiful site after a trek through the hemlock groves heavy with icicles. In spring, a host of native flowers are slowly coming back to life. The vernal pools are safe havens for many species of salamanders, frogs, and toads to lay their eggs. Once they hatch, these secretive and elusive amphibians will make their way into Lacawac, the perfect home for water-loving creatures. In summer, dragonflies buzz the shoreline as pickerels swim among the water lilies. Local children who attend camp explore the forest and lake, enjoying the sunshine as they climb over large boulders and learn about the amazing flora and fauna present in their own backyard. Those who come from the city are enchanted by all that nature has to offer.
It is not only campers, however, who explore. Many families who summer along the shores of Lake Wallenpaupack also visit Lacawac. They always want to share something about their experience.
“This place is so unique,” said one grandmother. “I have been coming for years and I love bringing my grandchildren. They live in the city and don’t get to play in the woods like I did when I was a kid.”
It is a privilege to provide such a beautiful natural space to those seeking to explore, relax, and learn. Lacawac Sanctuary just celebrated its 50-year anniversary, and it is my hope that the next 50 years will be as exhilarating, enlightening, and enchanting.