Tag Archives: Poconos

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.

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.

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.