Hiking & Exploring Keystone College

There’s no shortage of trails to be found in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. There are long-distance loops such as the Pinchot Trail, nature trails at the various county parks, and everything in between. One of those “in between” pathways is the network that can be found at Keystone College in LaPlume. There, sojourners can opt for a wide range of rambles ranging from an hour-long stroll to a half-day exploration.

Making Ready

Map of Keystone College Trails available at https://www.keystone.edu/woodlands-campus/hiking-trails/

A detailed map of the trails is available on the college website and at a few locations on the campus. Since there are a number of places to park as well as begin and end your trek, consulting the map before hand is a solid idea. If you want to check off the entire network, allow for a few hours and take along some water and snacks. One can tackle the terrain in running shoes and we didn’t encounter any serious mud while we were there, but at points the path takes you through grassy areas which could be dew covered in the mornings and there were a few spots where water could collect on the trail following a moderate rain. Aside from that, dress for the weather and take along the essentials.

Heading Out

We started our adventure by crossing the swinging bridge located behind the college library. It’s very sturdy but wobbly and you will feel like you’re walking on a pitching ship.

Once over the creek we explored the short Water Discovery Trail that skirted by some vernal ponds and the creek bank.

Typical Trail marker on the Keystone Campus routes.

In places, there are wooden boardwalks and spurs that lead off to the creek for fishing or just romping in the stream.

The trail then shifted up along the hill’s contour to where it joined up with the Nakomis Forest Stewardship Trail. There’s a place to take a gander into the gorge below, good enough to take a quick break but quickly we pressed on to the next junction and met up with the Trolley Trail that runs concurrently with the Nakomis trail for a ways.

A mossy log in the vernal ponds along the Water Discovery Trail.

Part of the Countryside Conservancy’s network, the Trolley Trail is a Rails-to-Trails project still in development. Once competed, recreationalists will be able to travel from Clarks Summit to Lake Winola on the former Northern Electric Trolley corridor. Currently, only two sections are complete, but you can get a taste of what it will be like. Unlike the footpaths elsewhere on the campus, here the trail was wide and graded. Good for hiking or biking. Soon though we turned off to follow the Nakomis Trail back downhill, across an athletic field, and back along the creek.

Old silo on the campus along the Nakomis Trail.

Wildflower viewing in this area was exceptional and several families were playing in the creek along this portion as well. One more uphill back to the junction where we had stopped earlier, and then a gradual decline back to the bridge and we were done.

Spring wildflowers along the bank of the Tunkhannock Creek

Vital Stats

The network is made up of five trails blazed in various colors, solid for the main trails and dashed for the spurs, visible on the map. Surfaces vary from dirt, to gravel, to pavement.

  • Tunkhannock Hiking Trail (Yellow) 1.2 miles plus spurs to a pond and apiary.
  • Nakomis Forest Stewardship Trail (Orange) 1.2 miles. Hilly but also runs partly with the rail-trail.
  • Water Discovery Trail (Blue) 0.35 miles. Wetlands, boardwalk, creek views.
  • Campus Trail (Green) 1.0 miles. Parts on pavement but also access to the creek and biology pond.
  • Gateway Trail (Purple) 0.4miles. Roadside. Runs with Orange partially. Connects Green and Orange for a bigger loop.

Overall, the terrain wasn’t hard to tackle and some water maybe a snack is all you really need. While tree and plant identification were fun, wildlife wasn’t plentiful. This could have to do with the fact we visited on a Saturday and the trails were busy. Still, it wasn’t as though it was jammed with visitors. We passed a few other families, but no one was so close that it was disruptive to our adventures. With still half the network to check out, we’ll likely return too.

Ready, Set, Ski!

The progression of shaped skis from 1995-2017. On the far left, a fairly straight K2 from 1995; next, a side-cut Volant from 1998; a more dramatic cut on a K2 from 2003; a rounder tip and a wider ski from K2 circa 2008; and a rockered Rossignol from 2017. All five skis are classified as All-Mountain for intermediate to expert skiers, in other words…your average ski.  

There’s a bunch of things even seasoned skiers some times slip up. I use the term “seasoned” as opposed to”experienced” or “avid” here because I’m targeting a certain demographic of winter sports enthusiasts; you may be that person or you may know one…or several. I consider a seasoned skier as being someone that knows how to ski but either hasn’t done it in a while, only puts a few days on the mountain a year (generally in one block), or even is a frequent skier that perhaps could use a refresher lesson.

Shape Up

Let’s work that list in reverse. Close to 20 years ago the shape of skis went from nearly straight to having a very defined sidecut. A lot of folks like myself learned how to ski prior to that time, upgraded their equipment as the trend changed, but never learned how to ski correctly on shaped skis. I myself was guilty of this for a few seasons. Add in “rocker”technology, which started showing up in skis about a decade ago, and you discover “How To Ski” has dramatically changed since Picabo Street won the gold in the 1998 Super-G.

Almost two decades after shaped skis hit the market you can still find people swooshing down the piste in a tightly closed parallel stance trying to “Ski Like Stein.” Don’t. While you’re on your trip,drop a few bucks for a private lesson with a PSIA instructor and take a few hours to really use those planks properly. Intermediate and advanced lessons not only serve to sharpen your skills, but can potentially give you the experience of a lifetime.

Gear Check

If you’re that “One Big Trip a Year” skier or rider, consider a few things. Does yours and your family’s gear fit and is it in good condition? Your son or daughter might have grown out of their helmet.Does the lid fit the kid? Did you just stash your stuff after last year’s vacation? Better check those edges and get a fresh coat of wax. Are you bindings in good shape? How about those boots? Wear them around the house a few hours a day before you go to get the fit dialed in. A few years ago, I ripped the buckle on the power strap on the top of a boot during my final expedition of the season. When I got home I stashed my gear keeping the broken part on my mental backburner but the summer happened and I forgot to address the problem. Guess what? The boot was still broken when I went to use it the following December.

Lesson Learned

Finally, there are those who at one time, probably while in college and shortly thereafter, were avid skiers. Then, life arrived and they got married and had kids, and stopped skiing. Now, the kids are older and can tackle sliding down the trail with various types of metal and polymer based products strapped to their feet. No matter how great of a skier you were, don’t try to teach your kids to ski, unless you are an instructor (and even then some instructors will have other instructors teach their own kids.)

There’s a number of reasons why you should not do this.First, you’re not an instructor. There’s more to it than “Pizza and French Fries.”Pros know the tricks and tips you don’t. Secondly, eliminate the parent-child dynamic. If things go south, you’re not bringing it home with you or having it come up ten years later when one of you is on the therapist’s couch.

Additionally, if you’re coming out of skiing hiatus,refer to all of the above. If you just bought a bunch of new stuff, get familiar with it at home before packing up the SUV. If you’re dusting off a pair of planks that haven’t seen the snow since the Clinton Administration,check it over well. If your gear wasn’t abused and was stored well, it may not be the slickest stuff, but it can still serve you fine with some moderate maintenance.

Check your supplies, address your issues, and enjoy the mountains!

Say Goodbye to your Summer gear

If you are a hunter, well, the late fall is probably your prime-time. Small game, bear, and rifle season for deer dominate the calendar. While there are plenty of trails to bike or hike, it’s sort of bland in the woods and if you paddle or ski there’s not much to do. I like to take advantage of the down time and go through my gear to see what needs attention.

Gear Review

The first step I take in going through my goods is to sort out the stuff I’m going keep using through the winter and put that on one pile. Everything else is likely to be something that’s not going to see the light of day until April. Mostly summer clothing and kayaking equipment ends upon the “storage” pile, practically everything else I use is year-round gear. Regardless, both piles need a good checking-out.

Things like my headlamp live in my pack all year, so fresh batteries get put in for winter. My main hiking boots are also a year-round item, so they’ll get new laces if needed and a fresh coat of waterproofing. Anything I find that needs attention gets put to the top of the fix-it list because chances are, I’ll need those items sooner than later. The stuff in the other pile then gets its examination.

My inspection uncovered a pair of paddling shorts that needs its built-in belt fixed; a bilge pump that needs to be replaced; a pair of hiking shoes that need to be fixed; a pair of sandals that need to be re-soled; and a bivy sack that has seen better days. Triage all that. Some stuff I can fix, some stuff might have to be sent out; and other stuff probably needs to be replaced. Everything else that is OK can be packed up. The things that need attention should go in a repair box, but don’t neglect it. More than once I procrastinated on taking care of something that I didn’t need for a few months, a trip came up in the spring, and I ended up not having what I needed.

DIY Fixers

Everyone should have the following items on hand to take care of repairs in-house. Nylon thread and needles of various gauges; epoxy;some sort of super glue; duct tape; electrical tape; seam sealer; leather conditioner; nylon cord; spring-loaded cord stoppers; some mosquito mesh material; metal wire; and some basic hand tools including a knife. If you bike, add bike tools to the list but throw out the tire tube patch kit because everyone knows replacing a tube is easier and more effective than patching one.

 Something like a loose sole on the bottom of a trail running shoe is an easy DIY fixer.

It’s a very good idea to purchase the correct cleaning and conditioning products for technical clothing. There are cleansers especially formulated for down; waterproof-breathable materials; and leather.Always read the tags for proper hand or machine-washing directions. Similarly,you can recharge a rain jacket or waterproof boots with the proper conditioners.

The soles of my Chaco sandals have seen better days. I’ll send these back to the company for new soles and new webbing too. 

A lot of things you can fix yourself, but some things are better left to professionals. I buy sport sandals that can be resoled and rewebbed. One pair I’ve had since 2002 and now they are due to go back to the manufacturer for a retrofit. It’ll cost me $70 or so but that’s better than$100 for new ones, plus, I get back my footbed that’s already broken in to my foot. Full zipper replacements, replacement staves in my internal frame backpack; and a resole of my leather boots are all things I’ve farmed out.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This bivy-sack served me well for a number of adventures but has delaminated and is no longer waterproof. Sadly, it will have to be replaced.

It’s hard to get rid of stuff that’s served you well, but eventually gear goes the way of Old Yeller. Once any waterproof-breathable material begins to delaminate, kiss it goodbye. I’ve relegated a few pairs of hiking shoes to “lawn mowing shoes” but eventually they’ll end up on the junk heap. The aforementioned busted bike tubes; bent tent stakes; and camp gadgets that broke the first time you took them out of the box are best sent to the scrapyard. Look at the bright side. The holidays are around the corner and it’s the perfect time of year to ask your loved ones for new outdoor gear.

Camping from the Kayak

Often an afternoon on a lake or a day spent going down river isn’t enough waterborne activity to quench your thirst for paddling. Maybe that lake is too big for a one day adventure or perhaps you want to explore another stretch of the river? You don’t have to leave, generally. Extend your trip and camp from your kayak.

Step 1
Step 1: Lay out everything you plan to put in the boat.

Camping out of a kayak is essentially like backpacking out of a boat whereas camping out of a canoe is a kin to pulling up to the KOA and putting up the pop-up. Canoeists heading out for several days, have a much bigger platform to work with and can afford to pack coolers; bigger tents; and bulkier items. Kayakers looking to do a multi-day mission have a lot less space for stowage, so items must be small and ideally serve more than one purpose.

No matter what you paddle, there are a number of items you’ll need to have: Rain gear; safety equipment; clothing; first-aid supplies; a water filter; dry bags; and some sort of mosquito netting to keep the bugs away from you at night being among the essentials. However when it comes to shelter; food; cooking equipment; and some comfort items, kayakers need to make well thought out choices if they want to travel in style.

Step 2
Step 2: Pack lighter clothing in the far front in a dry bag.

Choosing the right kayak for the job is a big deal. Most solo recreational kayaks are under 12 feet long. A short rec boat can be outfitted for a three day trip, but it takes some skill. Having a light touring kayak 12-13 feet in length or an even longer touring boat is generally the way to go. Most boats this length have sealed bulkheads fore and aft as well as behind-the-seat storage and a good deal of deck space. In most cases, all of this space will be used.

Step 3
Step 3: Pack cooking gear, food, and extra bear bags forward in the aft bulkhead.

Eliminating bulk is the key to getting all of the stuff you’ll need in (or on) your kayak. Start first by making good food choices. Freeze-dried or dehydrated backpacking meals are a fine thing to eat. They are easy to prepare, especially if all that it takes to cook is some boiling water added to the bag the meal comes in. Foods that need cooking, such as Ramen noodles or rice also are decent options. You’ll just need a stove that has a simmer setting. When possible, discard any packaging before you head out. It’s less you’ll have to bring out and might afford you some extra space. You could skip the gas stove all together and go with a fire provided there are no open fire restrictions where you will be travelling. One problem with using fire is finding enough small fuel to get a fire going. In designated campsites, a lot of times, it’s picked over. Rainy weather too can hamper the quality of kindling and tinder making it difficult to produce flamage.

A white gas or isobutane backpacking stove is a good, compact cooking choice but smaller stoves that run on denatured alcohol or on kindling wood are even lighter and more compact. A small pot, 2 quarts or under, is also something you’ll need. A collapsible water bag is another item to consider along with 1-2 wide mouth quart water bottles. A water filter kept handy can allow you to refill your drinking water while on the go and you can pump a full water bladder for cooking and drinking once at camp.

Shelter is another bulky necessity. Chances are since you’ll be camping near the water, evening insects will want to hassle you. A small two person tent is usually nothing more than a glorified screen house with a rain fly. If split up between two kayaks it works well and doesn’t take up much more space. A rectangular nylon rain fly can also be strung between two trees and mosquito netting can be hung up under it for some protection from the bugs. It’s less bulky than a tent but not the easiest thing to set up. A one person bivy sack is another good choice but most are made of Gore-Tex and can still be rather warm on a summer night. If weather permits, lighten up your sleeping gear as well. Choose a sleep sack intended for hostel use or a lighter fleece sleeping bag. Pack these well and keep they dry. A closed cell foam pad can be rolled and strapped to the deck.

Step 4
Step 4: Pack sleeping bag, bivy, and sleeping pad rear in the aft bulkhead. Close the hatch.

When it comes to bulk, clothing takes up an insane amount of space. The less you can take, the better. One set of clothes to wear while paddling and another set for lounging around camp after dinner is all you need in the summer. If you normally paddle all day wearing just a swim suit, then that’s all you need for the daytime. If you need more sun and wind protection, then wear a lightweight synthetic shirt. At night generally lightweight workout pants and long sleeve shirt is all that’s needed, mostly for protection against insects. However, watch the weather before you go and know the area’s typical temperatures. Fleece pants and a sweatshirt might be a night time necessity. Towels also take up a lot of space. Invest in a thin, superabsorbent, quick-drying towel and leave the big beach towel at home. Avoid the cotton at all costs. Once wet it becomes heavy and loses all its insulation. In humid weather, wet cotton will take forever to dry out too.

Items you hope to not need while on the river should get stowed in the bulkheads or lashed behind you. Things such as water bottles, the water filter, safety equipment, maps, lunch and snacks, and clothes needed for sun and rain protection should be packed or lashed somewhere that’s easy to access.  Continue reading Camping from the Kayak

Splendid Springtime Sojurns

An hour before daybreak you’re crouched, camouflaged, calling up a wild turkey. By 1:00pm you’re sinking salmon eggs on your spin rod trying to tempt a trout. Following dinner, there’s still enough light to forage the fields and forests for flora and fauna. Whether you consider yourself a sportsman, an outdoorsman, or just a nature lover, May in Northeastern Pennsylvania is definitely your month.

 

Seasons of Change

The months of May and October in these parts are perhaps the two most dramatic epochs of the year. We begin October, typically, with a rather green forest tinted here and there with smatterings of yellow, red, and orange. The days are usually warm and being outside is rather enjoyable. By the end of that month, the trees are bare, the air has become chilly, and there’s a good chance your Halloween costume is hidden under an overcoat.

 

May is just the opposite. As we step into the month, the woods are a grey tangle of trunks and twigs. Blustery breezes off the lakes and on the mountain tops warrant wearing a windbreaker, at the very least, and finding frost fixed to your windshield in the morning is a plausible possibility. In a matter of days though, usually by mid-month, the transformation transpires. Everything greens up, sleeves become shorter, and by the end of the month we are heralding the return of the summer season. Like October, May has 31 days, as if the lords of the calendar deem you make the most of the month.

Iris.2

Fish & Game…and More!

Through most of May, it’s wild turkey hunting season. Later in the month you can hunt all day, but in the early part of the season you have to hang up the shotgun by noon. Fine. Put the 12 gauge in the trunk and pull out the fishing rod after lunch. Many local streams get a late stocking of trout during the first two weeks of May.

 

If you’re not a hunter or an angler, fear not! Save for the early blooming plants such as trillium and the summer buds like Indian pipes, the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s wildflowers can be found at one point or another throughout the month. Bluets, irises, violets, and laurels can all easily be found along many of the local paths and waterways. Most migratory birds that call these parts home for the summer have arrived and began nesting. White speckled fawns blend in with the flowery forest floor while red-shouldered blackbirds make their presence known with their buzzing chirp. Lace up your boots or put your paddle in the water…either way, take your camera. Chances are you’ll see something worthy of a social media post somewhere on your journey.

 

Hot Spots

Plenty of ponds in the area recently received a fresh dose of trout. Lily Pond, Lake Minisink, Fairview Lake, and Little Mud Pond have all been stocked as have waterways such as the Lackawaxen River, Sawkill Creek, and both the Little and Big Bushkills.

 

Expect loads of laurels to bloom, as usual, in and around Promised Land State Park and on the adjacent Delaware State Forest. Easy finds of big patches lie in the apex of Route 390, Old Greentown Rd, and Shiny Mountain Rd just south of I-84. Hike in less than a mile to Egypt Meadow Lake for irises, violets, and bluets.

Mountain Laurel

Let’s not forget about mountain biking either. With the exception of trails in the state forest that are marked exclusively for hiking (in the natural areas) the vast majority of state forest trails are open to pedal power. Check out the generally messy, muddy Maple Run off PA-402 or opt for a more leisurely ride along the Kleinhans loop and Song Dog Rd off PA-390. Expert riders looking for a real challenge might opt to tackle the trails at Prompton State Park.

 

Need some river? You may need to wait for a good rain if you want wild water on the Lackawaxen. Brookfield Renewable plans to restrict energy generation through mid-June, but this is good news for anglers. Enjoy some calm paddling on the Delaware River in early May below Matamoras and gradually move your river runs upstream as the season progresses. Pre-Memorial Day is also a good time to explore the Big Lake in smaller watercraft if you don’t care to share your canoeing and kayaking with powerboats.

Kayak Gear

Wildlife aside, don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with nature. Wade in the water, put your nose up to the flowers, hug a tree, and scramble up that slope. Don’t just enjoy the outdoors, experience it!

Battling Blazing Brush Fires

DCNR Air Recon shot of fires
DCNR aerial reconnaissance photo of the 16 Mile Fire (left) and Beartown Fire (right) taken mid-afternoon of the first day of the incident. Photo:DCNR

The day started no different that the several before it. A high pressure system had settled in over Northeastern Pennsylvania during late April that helped enhance the chance of a rapidly spreading wildfire. Smaller blazes had been breaking out in Pike County for a week or so already. It was spring fire season and this was expected. Up to that morning, there had been twenty-four fires Bureau of Forestry firefighters responded to between Pike and Monroe since the end of February. Over the preceding days the fire danger level had steadily increased from “Moderate” to “High” and then “Very High.” The last, an uncommon rating in the area, but not unprecedented. Corresponding to the rise in danger, the local wildland fire crews heightened their readiness level as well. What started off as four pillars of white smoke in the morning of May 20, rapidly intensified into two separate conflagrations. The columns changed to clouds and by 3:00pm a banner of smoke easily seen over 30 miles away waved over the ridgeline. By the next morning the wind and weather shifted and much of Pike Country smelled like a smokehouse. Welcome to the Cresco Complex Fire.

Park Service Fire Fighters on 16 Mile
National Park Service firefighters from the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area were some of the first federal resources on the fire. Photo Jon Castimore/NPS 

The final weeks of April and the first week of May were quite busy for me. In addition to the nearly unprecedented Cresco Complex Fire that was incinerating the Monroe-Pike County border, DCNR and volunteer fire crews spent a lot of time battling other brush fires that were popping up around the area. While I did spend some time supporting the efforts waging war against the big fire, most of my time was spent on the initial attack team in Pike County that was occupied with preventing other fires from getting out of hand. These ranged from small acreage field fires to an 80 acre blaze on PA State Game Lands.

When the radio chatter about the smoke sightings that would become the Beartown and 16-Mile fires started I was out checking deer exclosure fences near Greentown. I normally don’t take fire equipment with me when I head out to the regeneration plots, but on that day something in my brain said take a fire tool and a water bladder in the event I either find something or my UTV inadvertently catches something on fire. Before I could even finish my task for the morning I was called back to the station and was reassigned to fire patrol. Our bulldozer operator had been reassigned from the Pike County patrol to the quickly growing fire in Monroe County. That move alone indicated to me that what was going on to the south was getting big, fast.

I fully knew we weren’t going to respond to what was going on in Monroe. Already the DCNR units there as well as local volunteer units and a group of federal firefighters enroute back to the Delaware Water Gap from a training were engaged, as were a number of aircraft. Myself; my usual partner, Dave; and our Fire Supervisor Bill were sitting tight in the event we were needed in Pike. We didn’t wait long for a call. By 3:00pm we were rolling to Westfall Township to assist local units there. On the way to help them we got our first look at what was going on with the big fire. As we exited the interstate at Matamoras a look west toward the ridge 28 miles away showed the massive smoke plume rising from the 16-Mile fire. By 5:00pm we were heading back to our station and the cloud had grown larger. While a few of our station’s crew headed to the big fire for a night shift, we knew we’d be back in Pike the next day.

Firefighter on 16-Mile
Several attempts were made to backburn areas of the forest in order to stop the advance of the fire but many were unsuccessful as the speed of the fire’s advance  was extremely rapid. Photo: Dan Buttaro/DCNR

Dave and I intercepted a small fire sparked by Thursday’s winds that downed a power line just south of Promised Land and later that afternoon we found ourselves in Milford on another blaze that burned up the side of a hill behind the pharmacy on Route 6. Meanwhile the monster grew steadily to 2621 acres and more and more resources from around the state were pouring in to contain it.

16mile sitmap 4.26
DCNR map showing the size and containment efforts of the two fires in the Cresco Complex. This map is from (or about) April 25. Heavy black lines around the fire areas represent containment and red boundaries show the active fire front. 

Overnight the 16-Mile fire expanded to almost 3600 acres. When we arrived at our station Friday morning the smell of smoke filled the air. Wind and inversion pushed the smoke north and it lingered over northern Pike county much of the day. Dave and I were headed to Milford to do a day-after check on the fire we helped extinguish the afternoon before when we were called to a fire in Shohola and later that day we ended up on the game lands for another blaze that lasted until 8:00pm. Our friends to the south were suffering from the same forces of weather. By the time we finished up near Shohola Lake, the 16-Mile fire had grown to 5029 acres.

Fireline at Shohola Falls Fire
Elsewhere in Pike and Monroe counties, smaller fires broke out on a daily basis. DCNR crews with Volunteer Fire Departments tackled this fire on State Game Lands near Shohola Lake utilizing a combination of tactics that included everything from retardant drops by aircraft to gas powered leaf blowers used to remove light fuels from the path of the fire.

I was off the day shift on Saturday. I knew I was going in for overnight duty on the big fire but I decided to take a drive around the fire area that afternoon. Things were relatively quiet. Smoke was hard to see and signs of firefighting activity were difficult to detect. Everyone was out in the woods far from the roads. However the front was still moving northeasterly towards the cabins around the Ludleyville and Pine Flats area in Porter Township.

Progression Map
DCNR map showing the daily progression of the fire’s growth.

When I came in that evening at 8:00pm I was told I was going with one of our engines to provide structure protection to a camp near Canadensis. Some of the area had already been burned over but there was still a threat now coming from another direction. Through the night we kept a vigil and watched the fire out in the darkness. The main line heading toward us moved little but over the ridge we could see the glow emitted by the backburn that was taking place in an effort to stifle the front moving towards Pine Flats. Less than an additional 300 acres burned by the end of Sunday and by that time many felt good progress was being made.

Engines at the Wiggle Inn camp.
PA Bureau of Forestry Type 6 Engines such as these were used in a variety of roles ranging from initial attack to structure protection. Hunting camps such as this one with good buffer zones free of fuels were easily defended. Note the burned area in the foreground.

Countywide burn bans helped stave off smaller fires on Monday and things remained relatively quiet outside of what was going on just west of Pine Flats. While many bulldozer lines were cut through the area fires jumped the overturned earth here and there. Sometimes the fire crept along the ground and at other occasions it would dance from tree to tree. By 7:00pm that night the expanse of the damage had blossomed to 8032 acres and consumed five cabins and six outbuildings.

Burned Cabin near Flat Ridge
Several cabins such as this were unfortunately consumed by the fast moving fire and reduced to nothing more than a foundation, chimney, and ash. 

Rain finally arrived Monday evening. Coupled with the large amounts of fire retardant and dozer lines spread through the forest, the fire was for the most part now contained. For the next few days much of the effort switched to mopping up and initiating the rehabilitation of the areas damaged by the machinery.

Entering “the black” or burned areas was something near surreal. Some cabins that had ample clear space around them were literally unscathed while other structures were reduced to ash and piles of almost unidentifiable objects. In some cases just a chimney was all that remained. Here and there the orangish-pink residue left from the fire retardant drops could be seen on woodpiles and buildings. Where the fire crawled along the ground, the forest floor was charred and where it moved through the trees more so, bark and limbs were scarred.

Retardant splash on house
Airtanker drops were close enough to some structures that retardant hit the siding leaving behind an orangeish-pink residue.

Much of what burned was an area that had been devastated by Gypsy Moth nearly a decade ago. Corpses of trees stood as if undead for years. Dry and rotted they provided ample fuel for the fire and the same thick understory that hampered police efforts in the manhunt for Eric Frein two years ago added to the fuel mix. While the blaze has been ruled an arson, a naturally occurring fire under the same conditions very well may have yielded similar results. I will keep my own suspicions as to why the blazes were started but I will say that I believe even the arsonist probably got more than he or she was bargaining on when they set the initial fires.

All Photos © Bill Deaton 2016 unless otherwise noted.

Flaming Fall Foliage: 2015

Autumn in Pennsylvania is generally showy. A rather dry and warm fall meant a delay in the change of colors this year. In fact, many thought that if and when the hues came, it would happen swiftly, or, even worse, a sudden cold snap would spell certain death to the canopy and there’d be little color at all. Fortunately, the ideal temperature range for a spectacular display held for a two week period and the post-peak era also yielded some fine sights as well.

I spent the better part of this time doing one of two things in the forest. Largely, I was off patrolling the fences we use to keep white-tailed deer out of areas we are trying to regenerate, or I was mowing down the fields we keep as food plots, the plants there having already gone to seed and withered. In both cases I was treated to a myriad of natural palettes, ranging from monochrome to prismatic.

Fall Forest
Spruce and oak offer a contrast of green to the turning maples and ferns along a gravel-covered snowmobile trail near the Edgemere area of the Delaware State Forest in Pike County, Pennsylvania

 

Ambush Autumn
Already past-peak, some oaks remain in color despite the thinning canopy.

Autumn Road
An early season shot along one of our Pike County snowmobile trails. Many of these are relatively flat and either grass or gravel-covered. Few folks realize they are open to mountain biking and some are open for equestrian activities. Consider hitting the trail some autumn. You might see something like this.

Old Dingman's Field #3

Old Dingman's Field
The above two photos are taken of the same corner of the wildlife food plot located off PA-Route 6 on a trail known as the Old Dingman’s Turnpike. They were taken a few days apart from slightly different vantage points at different times of day, both with a 20 megapixel camera phone with a Zeiss lens. I used a polarized sunglasses as a filter on the lower photo. Aside from some cropping, I didn’t do much editing.

Orange Trees
Near another food plot near the Edgemere Fire and Ranger Station it was just a wall of orange one day.

Redbush Patch
A now all crimson low-bush blueberry patch.

Woods & Bush
Late season shot along another snowmobile trail.

Yellow Oak
Looking up at a maple tree solidly sporting golden boughs.

Note: Hopefully there won’t be a lengthy delays between future posts. September brought a new little boy into our family and the local fall high school sports beat I cover was hectic as well as long. Several of the teams I report on went deep into the post-season. Before I knew it, our oldest son’s birthday was upon me, Thanksgiving, the loss of my father-in-law, automotive hi-jinx, and the Holidays. Added to all of that I had been undergoing physical therapy for a work related injury. I’ll be playing catch-up with the blog for a while. Thanks for reading and understanding.

Falls in the Forest

Choke Creek Falls in the Pinchot (formerly Lackawanna) State Forest
Choke Creek Falls in the Pinchot (formerly Lackawanna) State Forest

Sometime about seven years or so ago, the details escape me now to the circumstances surrounding the original voyage, accompanied by one of my usual adventuring companions, Lee Shaffer of Avoca, I visited Choke Creek Falls for the first time. Since then I had always wanted to return to explore the area some more and get better acquainted with the lay of the land so I could do some more solo trips here. That never happened until just a few days ago. Of course I couldn’t remember the directions once the road ended so again, Lee volunteered to show me the way. So with cameras and fishing rods, off we went.

Getting There

It takes about a half-an-hour to get to the trailhead from the intersection of PA-435 and Clifton Beach Rd between Daleville and Gouldsboro. Starting from there, travel 4.9 miles on Clifton Beach Rd, and another 0.9 on the same road once it turns into River Rd.

Make a right on to Pine Grove Rd and take that 1.5 miles to a T-intersection, then turn right on to Bear Lake Rd. and travel about 0.1 mile to Tannery Rd, an improved dirt/gravel forest road. Turn left on to Tannery Rd. and continue 1.2 miles to an opening/intersection with Phelps Rd where you make a very sharp left. Phleps Rd. winds through the forest and after 2.2 miles comes to a black and yellow gate at a sharp right turn. Park here but do not block the gate. This is the trailhead. It is not marked.

Recent logging in the area is evident and heavy equipment might be present if you visit in the near future, so use care. Travel through the gate and continue for about 0.3 mile to a log landing. Bear right here and walk another .25 mile to a log bridge. Cross the bridge and immediately turn left onto a footpath. This trail follows the creek along the north bank for about .15 mile to where the falls are located.

What To Do

Most of the trail there is within the boundary of the Lackawanna State Forest, but the final part of the route and the creek itself lie in PA State Game lands #91. There were no “No Camping” signs seen on the Bureau of Forestry property so one can assume that the DCNR Primitive Camping Rules apply here. However, camping is not permitted on PA State Game Lands, nonetheless signs of overnight use are readily visible at the falls.

Fishing was good. In less than an hour Lee hooked at least four Brook Trout using mealworms on a spinner rod from the cliffs below the main falls. There’s a natural pool, below the main cascade and another larger “man-enhanced” pool below the short chute. He pulled fish out of both spots with relative ease.

I busied myself with photography. There’s a number of spots to shoot the falls from but if you want the best shots you’ll have to get wet. That means wading out into the lower pool to take a head-on shot of the waterfalls. Most point-and-shoot and phone cameras will get you a nice enough photo of the falls but you’ll want a tripod if you wish to do some more serious photography since there aren’t a lot of natural things to prop a SLR camera on for technical shots.

Taking a dip is also another option. On a hot, muggy afternoon, a swim in the cool creek would offer some sweet relief to the dog days of summer. There is obvious signs that this is a commonly used swimming hole. Several ropes hang from a tree and a series of boards have been hammered into the same tree forming a makeshift ladder for either accessing the swing or for jumping off of.

Choke Creek Native Brook Trout. Caught and Released.
Choke Creek Native Brook Trout. Caught and Released.

Take Care

As typical with many of our trips into the local woods, we hauled out someone else’s trash. While the area was not overly covered in litter, we did get rid of some beer bottles, monofilament, a few cans, and a couple of bait containers. Cigarette butts, which people seem to forget do not biodegrade, tend to be the most commonly discarded thing there. So of you visit, do your part and haul out your trash, please. It’s a beautiful area that with some TLC can remain that way for a long time.

Three Guys & A Beer’d Brewing

Matt and Johnny, Hard At Work in the Brewery.
Matt and Johnny, Hard At Work in the Brewery.

Once upon a time, when Old King Coal ruled the lands of northeastern Pennsylvania, dozens of small breweries supplied ample amounts of beer to the workers of the realm. Historians can bicker about the actual effects the Volstead Act had on the demise of local brewing. A number of Lackawanna County breweries ceased operations long before Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920. Once beer became legal again in 1933, only a handful of breweries started up again in the county, most of which were in Scranton but none called the Pioneer City home.

The beer business in America became dominated by large brewing companies following World War II and remained almost unchallenged through the 1960s and 70s. Eventually the last of the commercial breweries in the county locked their doors too, and until four years ago, local brewing was dead.

As small craft-breweries began to emerge in southern Pennsylvania and the surrounding states during the 1990s, the demand for something other than what was being made by the big breweries grew. Eventually the sentiments towards microbrewing that had already been established in other regions took root in Northeastern PA and the climate was finally right for a local brewery to open shop.

Endless Summer Ale
Endless Summer Ale

Beer Buddies

“We really just wanted to open up a beer deli at first,” said Matt Zuk, the main brewer and one of the four founders of Three Guys and a Beer’d. He and fellow partner, Dave Oakley, both from Greenfield, began home brewing over ten years ago simply because “…it was hard to get good beer.”

Dave’s cousin, Johnny Waering (aka The Beer’d) was another beer aficionado.

“I had to travel to find beer I liked,” he remarked, “I started reading about beer and started reviewing beer on line years before I started brewing with Dave and Matt and John Bronson, our other partner. We thought that having a place where we could sell good beer would be cool but after thinking about it we knew we could sell what we were making…and here we are.”

It took five years for the hobby brewers to make the transition to professionals. Once they received their license, liquor laws prevented Matt from continuing to work in the culinary field, so he got into construction work to make ends meet. Nowadays he spends most of his time at the brewery.

Johnny too split his time between the brewery and his day job with the water company until things got to the point where beer became the thing that was going to take him forward. Dave and John still hold down their old jobs but put in a lot of time at the brewery too. Work, however, is never in short supply and even with Dave and Johnny on board full time, they were still struggling to get things accomplished.

“The good thing about being an owner is you get to work half days,” Matt said chuckling, “just pick five days when you can be here for twelve hours at a time and there’s your five half-days.”

Johnny, who is in charge of sales and distribution, was on the road five or six days a week delivering beer personally as well as trying to open up new markets. Their original business plan called for them to be in ten bars in Lackawanna County, a month after the first kegs left the brewery they were in 30 bars in three counties. Things picked up rapidly, Johnny recounted, and this year they were able to get picked up by LT Verrastro distribution. Three Guys and Beer’d is now available in 400 outlets and eight counties!

“Getting picked up by a distributor is big for us,” Johnny said, “It takes a lot of work off our plate and allows us to get to events and meet with the people selling and drinking our beer. We always like to represent the company when we can.”

Chewhoppa India Pale Ale
Chewhoppa India Pale Ale

Home Town Focus

A personal approach to the beer business is found throughout the overall philosophy of the company. It’s evident in many of the beers’ names such as “Wheat the People”- a nod to the notion that craft brewing is about more than putting a dollar in the company till at the end of the day; “Loyalty Shaving Cream Ale”- a tribute to the eponymous barber shop in town; and Carbond’Alien—brewed to commemorate the 1974 UFO incident.

Opening the brewery in Carbondale was important to the foursome as well. Other places in nearby communities were looked at prior to the start of operations, but things just kept pointing them back to Carbondale. Being all from the area, this meant a lot to the foursome and the local focus has paid off.

“The community response has been amazing,” Johnny stated, “they’re happy to see local guys doing something like this. Even small bars in town with only a few taps are carrying our beer. We have the brewery open every Saturday for people to come in to fill their growlers (half-gallon glass jugs) and we see the same people come in week after week.”

Booming Business

Growler fill-ups aren’t the only thing people are buying. Recently the state gave them a license to sell pints right at the brewery as well, so when open, the public can come in and sample some suds one glass at a time if they choose.

During their first year they made 96 barrels; 150 the following year; and 250 last year. An upgrade from a one-and-a-half barrel-at-a-time brewing system to one that can produces seven-at-a-time means this year’s final tally should be somewhere around 1400 barrels when all is said and done.

While a lot of the beer ends up in kegs or sixtils, plenty ends up getting bottled and the demand for that has increased as well. Currently 12oz bottles are filled two and a time, but just waiting for the final touches to be added is a new six-bottle filler, constructed locally as well, that will boost case production.

The added distribution and the direct-to-public sales means that production is up and will soon outgrow the small set-up located in the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, a business incubator located on Enterprise Drive. In a year, they’ll hopefully be moving into bigger digs.

“The area is growing and we’re hoping by next year to move into the old Fell School,” Johnny announced, “We have a thousand square feet here and if things go as planned we’ll have six thousand. It means a lot of room for production and a proper tap room for tasting and fill-ups.”

Expansion will almost undoubtedly mean additional employment as well. In addition to at least one person needed to help with prep work and another two to assist with the brewing, Johnny also hopes others will be needed in sales and in the tap room.

The Vitals

There’s currently four beers available year-round. In addition to the aforementioned three, Ladder Dive Rye India Pale Ale is also a 12-month offering. Seasonal brews include Malarkey Irish Red; Endless Summer Beer ESB; Soul Patch Pumpkin Ale; De-Icer Winter Amber Ale; and Augustus Chocolate Porter. Ten other beers make up the Clean Shaven Series. These are experimental recipes or styles made expressly for a specific client. Clean Shaven #6, for example, is an Oyster Stout available only at Coopers Seafood in Scranton.

Availability varies all around the area, but there’s no shortage of places to buy by the case, six-pack, or on tap. Growlers and pints are available every Saturday from 2-9pm at the brewery, 10 Enterprise Drive. A brand-new half-gallon growler will set you back $8 plus $10 to fill it with a regular beer or $12 for a seasonal or specialty brew. Also available are a wide variety of shirts, hats, and other beer gear. Check them out online at 3guysandabeerd.com; give them a call at 570-250-BREW; or stop by on a Saturday.

Indian Ladders Falls

Top Falls and Pool
First cascade and pool. Average pool depth is about 5′ and perfect for a swim.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area boasts a bevy of scenic attractions, waterfalls being among the chief draws for locals and tourists alike. Most of these picturesque cascades, such as Dingman’s Falls, Raymondskill Falls, and Childs’ Park are surrounded by walkways and viewing decks. While these features make viewing the waterfalls somewhat safer for the casual visitor and also concentrate the environmental impact made by hikers, at the same time they create a buffer that restricts adventurers from getting “Up close and personal” with the raw power of the churning water. However, if you are the type of outdoorsman that prefers to “experience” nature rather than just “enjoying” it, there are several, lesser known waterfalls where access is relatively unlimited. One such location are the Indian Ladders Falls.

Sketchy Sources

Obtaining accurate information about these falls proved to be the first challenge. Carl Oplinger’s “The Poconos” guidebook fails to list these falls and instead addresses a like-named series of falls located on the Skytop Resort property just over the Pike County line in Monroe County; Scott Brown’s “Pennsylvania Waterfalls” mentions four waterfalls and places them off Dickinson Rd, not Emory Rd (which also has various spellings depending on the source); and the Park Service notes this is also the Hornbeck Creek Trail and that there are two waterfalls, but then goes on to explain the “Ladders” are a series of falls and another waterfall (cited as “Tumbling Waters” in Brown’s guidebook) is located along the same trail. Confused? To add another layer of befuddlement to this quest, the Park Service has closed a section of the trail between the two series of falls; removed the online map; and has a link to directions that only show the access point off US-209 for the lower falls, not the Ladders.

Brown’s book, the mislabeled road aside, proved to be the most accurate source as it has a fairly easy-to-decipher map. Get oneself to the Pocono Environmental Education Center on Emery (their spelling) Rd. and leaving the PEEC parking lot, turn left and travel approximately 1.9 miles until the road crosses Hornbeck Creek. Pull-off lots are located on either side of the small bridge and the trails meander downstream from the road.

Hitting the Trail

Unlike many other natural attractions, no signage exists here to welcome you or warn you. There’s no informational kiosk, posted map, or painted trees to even guide you through the woods. A fairly well worn trail is easy to follow but smaller paths, here and there, lead wanderers to various spots along the creek where one can walk right out on to the cliffs and crags that bound the rushing water.

The first spectacle encountered on the downstream trek was a slide where a vein of water flowed for several yards before beginning an 18-20 foot plummet to a plunge pool. Accessing the slide is relatively easy if you’ve hugged the stream the entire way, getting down to the base of the falls takes a bit more effort as there’s no clear cut trail on one side of the stream.

Top chute.

Loose earth and crumbling rock make for a sketchy but short hike to a head-on view of the falls, uncluttered by boardwalks and split-rail fencing. On the opposite bank a more well-worn trail appears to offer an easier access way to the same spot. The pool depth averaged around five feet and one can literally wade right up to where the falling water reunites with the creek.

Continuing downstream, next a small chute cuts through the rock for about six feet and then after a short, flat run, drops abruptly for another 20-25 feet over a cascade. One can get into the gorge in between the chute and cascade and take in the sound of the water and the shapes it has created over the past 15,000 years or so. Sand that was deposited here millions of years ago sat undisturbed until the last ice age. When the glaciers receded the water flowed and began to make light work of the brittle rock. Eons of erosion are easy to observe from this spot.

Gorge
Inside the gorge.

Finally, the trail drops to the base of the fourth falls detailed in the guidebook, another cascade. This one is about 40 feet high and has a less inviting pool at the base due to the swifter current and slippery rocks. However the side trail to the base puts one in a great position to view the falls head-on.

Third Fall
Final Falls

Below this the trail seemed sketchy. There were no “Closed Trail” signs indicating the restrictions set by the Park Service, but it’s possible that the closed section of trail is further along. Regardless, a nice hike that allows one to experience waterfalls without man-made interference awaits for those that desire it.

Root
Eroded and exposed root in the gorge.

Sport, Outdoor Recreation, and Leisure Writing