Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

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!

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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.

On Patrol in the Poconos

Originally Published in Connections magazine: Honesdale, PA: February 2014

Walt Godshall of Montage Mountain Ski Patrol, PA
Walt Godshall of Montage Mountain Ski Patrol, PA

You are cruising down the ski slope one day, enjoying a fun-filled day with friends and family when all of a sudden something goes wrong. You’re not sure if you hit something, or caught an edge, all you know is that you are on the ground and that you are in pain. Within a few moments a group of red-jacketed folks are surrounding you, asking you questions, checking you over, and packaging you up. They load you into a toboggan and they speed you off to the first-aid room. Like it or not, you’re the latest customer for the local ski patrol.

The vast majority of patrons to a ski area probably have few if any encounters with patrollers other than possibly sharing a chairlft with one on the way back up the mountain. Part medic, part cop, and part customer service agent, ski patrollers fulfill an eclectic range of duties depending on what the resort needs them to do and what the demands of the day might bring. Regardless of what ancillary assignments are laid upon their table, a patroller’s primary mission is to provide medical care to skiers and snowboarders. While some ski areas utilize professionals the vast majority of patrollers are volunteers and members of the National Ski Patrol, a non-profit organization that provides medical, rescue, and ski/snowboard skill improvement programs throughout the country.

Patrollers at Jack Frost Mountain, PA “package up” a skier with a broken leg.

While some who have prior extensive emergency medical training my opt to take a challenge test, the majority of patrollers complete minimum of 80 hours of instruction that covers first-aid; outdoor and weather related contingencies; rescue; and patient transportation. Each year they undergo a one-day refresher clinic; keep their CPR training current; participate in rescue drills that involve chairlift evacuations; and pass a test handling a toboggan while on skis or a snowboard. The annual training cycle typically begins weeks before the ski areas open for business and for rookies, their medical course may start as early as the summer. Typically, most who complete the course then go through a candidacy program for a season where they learn the protocols of their resort and improve their skills.

Training doesn’t stop there. Beyond the basic level, patrollers may advance to a senior level where they must show proficiency at managing emergencies and show greater skill maneuvering over difficult terrain. The most adept and dedicated may then choose to become a certified patroller, a classification reserved for only those with extensive knowledge of operations, rescue techniques, and patient transportation. Additionally, almost every weekend throughout the ski season, supplemental trainings and skill-building courses are held at many resorts where patrollers can build their repertoire.

Pre-Season Lift-Evacuation Training with the Hideout Ski Patrol, PA
Pre-Season Lift-Evacuation Training with the Hideout Ski Patrol, PA

Locally, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, National Ski Patrol members serve everywhere from the larger resorts such as Elk Mountain and Montage to the smallest ski-hills such as the one in The Hideout. There is even a specialized team of patrollers that are dedicated to keeping the cross-country trails safe in the Promised Land State Park and Delaware State Forest area. It’s not an easy task. Good patrolling takes dedication to both becoming a better skier or snowboarder as well as a desire to serve others. If you think you have what it takes, then stop by the patrol room at your favorite resort and inquire within.

Hideout Patrol Door

Rx Burn

Prescription Burn in the Delaware State Forest
Prescription Burn in the Delaware State Forest

It’s a fine spring morning. You are driving to one of your favorite trailheads in anticipation of a hike when all of a sudden you see smoke rising from the woods in the direction you are headed. As you get closer you pass a sign. It reads: Prescribed Burn—Do Not Report. Ahead a bit further you see wildland firefighters clad in bright yellow shirts laden down with tools, packs, and helmets. Several are carrying cans from which a stream of fire seems to pour forth. Minutes later a wall of fire, chest high creeps through the trees consuming the underbrush. Welcome to forest management.

 Fire is typically thought of as a bad thing. Generations of Americans have grown up being warned by a bear that wears jeans and a ranger hat and who carries a shovel that forest fires must be prevented. While Smokey has a point, we obviously don’t want stands of valuable timber and sensitive habitat areas to go up in flames, fire is a natural part of the forest life-cycle. As man has encroached further into the wild, the need to protect property and lives has been put ahead of the biological needs of the forest, so wildfire is usually suppressed. As time goes on and fire is not allowed, more and more fuel accumulates in the woods and eventually it becomes a hazard. Setting a managed fire is one tool foresters use to eliminate accumulated dead wood and reduce the risk of it burning out of control and doing more damage.

Far away from developed areas, fire is also employed as tool for forest regeneration. Under very precise conditions the heat and flame length of a fire can be used to eliminate certain types of vegetation that is stunting the development of other preferred tree species. For instance, a tract of land where foresters wish to grow more oak trees might be burned to eliminate heavy birch growth. Oak is a much more desirable tree because it has a higher value for timber sales and it also produces more food for wildlife. Fire will affect birch trees differently than it will the oak, so an area that was once timbered or destroyed by insects such as gypsy moths might be regenerating more birch than oak. Once birch is reduced, oaks will have a better chance to grow and repopulate the area.

Regardless of the intended use, preparation for a prescribed burn begins months in advance. In almost every case, experienced foresters begin the process by evaluating the land to be scorched and then draft a detailed plan concerning the objectives, precautions, and cost effectiveness of the project. Once a plan is drafted it is sent to for approval by the land management agency that has jurisdiction over the area. If approved, crews get to work weeks before any torch is lit.

Prior to the fire, saw crews fall dangerous dead trees around the perimeter of the fire zone and sometimes even inside the area to be burned, less they fall outside the area or drop on a firefighter working the blaze. If there are no natural barriers or roads to contain the fire, heavy equipment may be employed to create a fire break, thus containing the fire to its designated area. Once firefighting assets are put in place and if the weather and conditions are correct, then a highly trained firefighter specifically certified to supervise the mission will begin the burn.

If all goes as planned, the firefighters assigned to the burn really won’t have much to do except make sure the fire is contained to the defined zone. Brush trucks and water tankers are on standby to put out spot fires that may jump the established lines but generally the main fire is stopped through the means of a backfire, another fire set in the opposite direction of the main blaze that devours the downed wood in the path of the original fire. Once the two meet they burn each other out.  Typically all that is left to do then is mop up the area by extinguishing smoldering stumps and falling hazardous trees that were not consumed in the flames. Since all the methods used to prepare and execute the prescribed burn are firefighting techniques, fires such as these provide valuable training wildland firefighters need when attacking an uncontrolled conflagration.

It may take years to see the results of a fire used for forest regeneration, but when set to eliminate hazardous fuels, the fire effects can be seen almost immediately. While neither the Lackawanna nor Delaware State Forests have any prescribed burns on their agendas for this year, the Delaware State Forest led the state in prescribed acres burned in 2013. However, other agencies and organizations such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the National Park Service, and the Nature Conservancy do have plans for fires this year in Northeastern Pennsylvania, so don’t be surprised if you happen to encounter one going on in the near future.