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Susquehanna Life

Reaching Out to the Planet

Oct 13, 2014 08:24PM ● By Erica Shames
Story and photographs by Bill Rozday

A wild turkey ascended the forest canopy, leaving me to wonder at the odd timing of its departure. I scanned a pile of low brush discarded by Merrill W. Linn Conservancy workers and saw a clutch of wild turkey eggs. The pools were within the 200-yard water source range necessary for nesting turkeys.

Free movement in sight

The nest offered a perfect illustration of the landscape connectedness that Merrill W. Linn Land & Waterways Conservancy promotes through their Linking Landscapes program (, which began in 2013 and currently involves 16 sites and 1200 acres. The glacial pool water source not only protects salamanders and frogs but links to forest edge turkey habitat, which in turn links to meadow nesting boxes hosting tree swallows that consume water-loving insects.

W. Geoff Goodenow, conservancy coordinator, conceived Linking Landscapes on a visit to an Ithaca, New York, land trust promoting an incipient Emerald Necklace of lakeside open spaces. Los Angeles is studying a similar, identically named initiative.  The idea is to allow free movement for people and wild things rather than an in-and-out experience.  Planetary and personal merge.

Building on what we have 

Two hours away, deep within the forests of the Allegheny Plateau, the concept of connectedness resurfaced at an orange STS—Susquehannock Trail System sign.  The orange blazes run along 85 miles of tree trunks, near six state parks. They tie state park trails, old logging roads and 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps paths into a system of conservation, human history and recreation.

The STS led the way in the development of recycled footpaths in America.  Tom Fitzgerald, a founding member of the Susquehannock Trail Club, dates its inception to 1967, at the chronological head of a host of similar trail projects throughout the country, and its inspiration to the 1962-era Finger Lakes Trail in upstate New York. A current parallel is the developing 340-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail, near San Francisco, which links a network of open spaces and regional parks at the doorstep of 7 million people.  Call it a kind of wilderness Smart Growth.

At the southern gateway of the STS, Ole Bull State Park, the trail surface represents no less than four and possibly five merged paths with discrete origins: a state park work road, a one-hour nature loop, a cultural trail to the site of visionary Norwegian Ole Bull’s home, a 1900-era logging road and what folklorists tell us was an 18th century French-Indian War road. In the ongoing attempt to build on what we already have, the park erected a statue in 2002 commemorating Ole Bull and his agriculture-based utopian colony.

Preserving dark skies

The STS passes near Cherry Springs State Park into the outdoor theatre of the newest environmental cause:  light pollution.  In 2000, the DNR designated Cherry Springs as only the second Dark Sky Park in America.  A once-lonely field dotted with generations-old heirloom apple trees, its grass now sprouts miniature astronomical observatories.

The night sky is the chief asset of this park.  Situated in an in-between zone in relation to urban light sources, as well as on an elevated plateau, the park offers renowned stargazing that includes views of the northern lights and uncluttered Milky Way vistas.  Astronomers rank it with world-known desert sites for clarity of view.

Cherry Springs modifies the environment to accommodate education and protect the area’s natural life.  Eco-friendly red light illuminates restroom ceilings. Pole lights give way to darkness. An earthen barrier blocks car headlights passing over the flat summit.

In intensely lit regions of our planet such as Europe and the eastern U.S., researchers document a range of negative effects from light pollution.  It upsets human sleep rhythms and disrupts bird migration patterns.  More immediate effects are the loss of moths to fluorescent light and resultant gap in wild bird diet.  Other effects remain to be discovered by the astronomers viewing the galaxies in this wildflower-studded field.

Astronomers tell us that the universe is constantly expanding—black matter bursting into life-giving light in ongoing creation. There is no time to waste.  Walk forward on the trails and gaze upward from the fields.

Bill Rozday’s writing focuses on the cultural values of nature. 

1. Waiting for sunset in front of a miniature observatory at Cherry Springs State Park
2. The STS— Susquehannock Trail System—is a groundbreaking recreational network
3. A green frog at Glacial Pools Preserve
4. Royal ferns and reflected sky at Glacial Pools Preserve
5. Wild turkey nest at Glacial Pools Preserve
6. Tree swallow nest at Glacial Pools Preserve; Glacial Pools Preserve entrance

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