Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Recovery For Penn’s Woods

As I drove recently for the first time up through central and northeast  Pennsylvania, from near Gettysburg up past the Great Bend, I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it is nor how unusual its mountains are.

They rise sharply, each in solitude, from pastoral valleys as short, narrow, very even and individual tree-laden sandstone ridges, some as high as 2,300 feet, around which the broad, pre-existing forks of the Susquehanna River meander through softer limestone and shale as they are replenished from streams issuing from the ridges.

One near Frackville offered a bit of “energy” irony with a row of sustainable energy windmills along its top surrounding what looked like a fossil fuel fracking tower (the town’s name pre-dates that technology.)

It would have looked much different a 111 years ago as President Theodore Roosevelt cut across the path I took, as he rode the train in 1901 carrying the body of the just-assassinated President McKinley from Buffalo NY back to Washington, DC.

The young Republican President described seeing seas forested by nothing but stumps and more stumps, the aftermath of another era of unsustainable resource plunder and failed public stewardship that saw two-thirds of the deforestation of the last 400 years in this country take place over just a 60 year period, eroding soil, flooding commerce and polluting rivers.

Were Roosevelt not already an ardent conservationist, that sobering trip may have become his epiphany.  Thanks in part to his inspiration the state literally named Penn’s Woods would be much different today.

With the exception of where fracking has been enabled even in state forests, 60% of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth is covered by 17 million acres of quality hardwood forest, an increase of 30% from its historic low, anchored by 26% that is owned and managed in the public interest, including watersheds, by state, federal and municipal governments and 70% of which is controlled by private forest owners.

On our return to Durham, North Carolina, we carved a route through the scenic Delaware Water Gap where, from its source at Mt. Jefferson in New York, the Delaware River cuts a dramatic gap through the Blue Mountains of the Appalachians as it courses along the entire border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey before emptying into the Atlantic through Delaware Bay below Wilmington forming the border between the states of Delaware and New Jersey.

Prior to road trips I’ve taken over the last couple of years, my only impressions of Pennsylvania were limited to flying into Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on business trips .

Several of my ancestors spent their first years as Americans in that state, including those with names such as Arbuckle, Buzby, Bowman, Evans, Harper, Longworthy, Livezey, Messersmith and McCrory, so the trip this summer definitely will not have been my last.

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