Explore... the Isle of Que
In 1976, the borough of Selinsgrove purchased the last remaining riverfront land on the Isle of Que with the idea of one day building a public boat launch. Ravaged by the 1975 flood, the land was no longer suitable for building.
Boat ramp beginning
Five years ago, Jim Charles, whose family has lived on the Que for generations, joined others in establishing a Boat Launch Committee as an arm of Selinsgrove Projects Inc., the boroughs main street program. The focus was on constructing the long-awaited boat launch for small watercraft, including kayaks, canoes, and flat-bottom Jon boats. An existing rudimentary boat launch, built nearly 30 years ago, had served residents well enough but the time had come for an upgrade. Last year, utilizing a design proposed by borough manager and engineer John Bickhart, and a grant from the PA Fish Commission, the boat launch was built. It includes a concrete ramp, a terraced sitting area and a paved parking area on the west side of Front Street.
Other goals on the horizon
While construction of the boat launch was taking place, Charles happened, as part of his participation in the Susquehanna Greenways committee, to attend a Susquehanna River symposium, and became energized to do more.
"We really do have a tremendous resource in the Susquehanna River," he said. "But the town of Selinsgrove also has Penn's Creek, Middle Creek and several areas of public land along Penn's Creek. All of what we have is the best kept secret in the world." He wanted to do something to facilitate greater access to the water resources.
Charles volunteered to reactivate the boat launch committee, with the realization that it needed to focus on much more. "Discovery Trails is what we started calling it," said Charles. "One of the goals is to establish what we call water trails on the Susquehanna River, with the boat launch being the put-in and take-out point."
Enjoying river life
Discovery Trails, as part of its strategic plan, has even bigger dreams. Two public areas will be established on Penn's Creek, between New Berlin and Selinsgrove, and at least one site on Middle Creek. Already, a public access area on Spruce Street in Selinsgrove was created by Andrew Burd as an Eagle Scout Project.
"We have a phase two to the boat launch," said Charles, "that addresses people traveling on the river to utilize the water trail laid out by the Susquehanna River Trail Association that spans the length of the river. The plan includes a permanent restroom facility with a shower, a fenced in overnight camping area, a pavilion, and we hope to obtain, through donations, eight or ten bicycles and a bike rack."
Charles envisions river travelers stopping on the Isle of Que for the night could shower, change clothes and bike into Selinsgrove to enjoy restaurants and stroll through the quaint college town. "We think it's important, with our Discovery Trails, that we look at the people utilizing the river, and coordinate our facilities so they can be used even by people just passing through." Charles also envisions coordinating with other River Towns, designated by the Susquehanna Greenways project, to perhaps someday hold events and activities to attract attention to towns located on the river.
Further, Discovery Trails will develop at least two bicycle trails that would start at the Commons in Selinsgrove, head south of town, and utilize miles of country roads. "They take you through absolutely beautiful Amish countryside, viewscapes that look back at the river and down the river valley that, again, are some of the best kept secrets in the world," notes Charles.
Preserving quality of life
Beyond facilitating river access, Discovery Trails is tasked with preserving the high quality of life that exists in and around the isle. "We've talked a lot about the goal of Discovery Trails-is it tourism-based or are we doing this for the local population?" Charles posed, "We've made a very conscious decision that what guides what we're doing is accommodating the local population first. My motivation for wanting to be part of this committee is I know change is going to happen. I address quality of life issues for those of us who live here."
The example Charles uses is Lancaster County. "I apologize to the people in Lancaster County," said Charles, "in making this comparison. They have wonderful Amish communities, but it is so commercial, and it has happened almost at the expense of those folks. I'd like to do what I can to make sure that doesn't happen here."
New business venture
Charles' involvement in Discovery Trails has been revelatory and life-changing. "The renewable resources like the river are abundant," he said. "Using the river to access water trails or to fish, with a little bit of care, you don't leave any mark. After 40 years of being in banking in the valley, I decided to retire and realized it was possible to have a business based on the river without harming the river."
Charles and his wife Judie formed Isle of Que River Guides to intorduce people to the river without impacting the quality of life of neighbors. "That's important to us," stressed Charles.
Among the experiences offered are guided fishing, photography, kayaking, and family excursions. Kayaks are available for rent, as well. "So many people have said, I've lived in this area all my life and I've never been on the Susquehanna River!" exclaims Jim. "They don't know where to go, and they don't feel comfortable going out by themselves. That's what Isle of Que River Guides hopes to do-introduce people to the river."
Charles envisions this familiarity will lead to enjoyment. "Perhaps they'll come back later and feel comfortable enough to rent or even buy kayaks and start going out on the river on their own. It's what I call the magic show, and I invite people to experience it," he says with eyes wide open. "Mother Nature and Old Man River have their show every single day out here. As much as it looks the same, every single day it's different."
Until the Web site is completed, for more information on Discovery Trails, visit Selinsgrove Discovery Trails on Facebook.
Article from Susquehanna Life Magazine by Erica L. Shames