By Tony McLellan
To the untrained eye, the Susquehanna River may appear to be just another steadily moving aquatic formation, one of many rivers that flow through the state of Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna is no ordinary body of water, however. It is part of a Greenway, a beautiful amalgamation of water, land and community which continues to connect the worlds of human culture and nature, bringing both closer to a serine and secure future. The efforts of the locals and the geography of the Greenway itself make the Susquehanna Greenway a unique natural paradise, one that is worthy of statewide attention and beyond.
“The Susquehanna Greenway started back in 2001. The Governor at the time identified creating greenways and preserving open space as one of the top priorities for the state. The Susquehanna River was identified as a valued resource within the state of Pennsylvania, so his declaration helped to start our initiative,” said Corey Ellison, Assistant Director of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. “The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership started out as and continues to be a collective partnership. In our early years, over two thousand individuals representing government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and industry were members in that first committee and Susquehanna Greenway Planning Team. They worked together to envision and map the Susquehanna Greenway, as well as identified five demonstration projects within the state, and then worked collaboratively to initiate those projects.” In the following half decade, the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership would go on to form both its strategic action plan and board of directors, successfully becoming an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization along the way. While smaller in number now than in the past, the SGP and their affiliated partners continue to progress towards a greener future, via their three program areas: 1) Education and Outreach, 2) River Towns, and 3) Trails (both land and water).
Conserving and Enhancing Natural Resources
The Susquehanna Greenway is a corridor of open space, river accesses, and trails that boarder the Susquehanna River. The corridor itself runs about 1-3 miles on either side of the Susquehanna and once completed will encompasses an area of over five hundred miles, with the Susquehanna River, the greenway’s most important and noticeable geographical feature. It is the largest river in Pennsylvania, and a vital natural resource that supplies the expanses of forest, wetlands and farmlands along it with sustenance, as well as six million of the state’s residents with drinking water. The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership actively provides resources and assistance to the various state, local, governmental, and nonprofit organizations looking to uphold the vision for the Susquehanna Greenway. Through the group’s Education and Outreach program, they work to highlight the many benefits of the Greenway to communities. A large portion of the organization’s work within this program area focuses on increasing awareness of the River as a resource to the health of a community, and as an economic development asset. Topics of connectivity, walkable and bikeable communities, issues of water quality, the conservation of key Greenway corridors, and enhancements to stormwater management such as rain gardens and riparian buffers along the river are spread throughout their work.
Revitalizing River Towns
“Our River Towns program works to envision, prioritize and implement community lead projects that reconnect residents back to the Susquehanna River,” said Ellison, as she spoke of the numerous communities that have called the Susquehanna River home for many generations, and how the towns and villages within the greenway have begun to face age-related problems in recent years. “Communities along the river are unfortunately isolating themselves from it. A big concern while living on the Susquehanna is flooding, so locals have been putting up various flood walls for protection. However, they have essentially blocked themselves off from the resource that helped found their communities. So a primary goal of ours is to reconnect residents back to the river itself.” The SGP aims to advance this mission by promoting riverside communities as greener, healthier destinations for both tourists and permanent residents alike. The group follows through on their community-oriented advertisement by creating and improving the various trails that connect urban environments to the riverside, refurbishing urban open space, and by improving the amount and quality of river trail-related activity for any and all wishing to partake.
As noted above, the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership is steadfastly dedicated to associating the Susquehanna River with positivity, community and potential for growth. With help from associated partners in the local communities and its own set of social and environmental-focused skills, the SGP works collaboratively with partners to provide parks, trail systems and the river itself direct access to the downtown core, create trail systems along the river that inspire active living and improve the livelihood of local wildlife, and link the trails of the greenway to the many others within the region. The upkeep and creation of trails in and around such urban environments are essential for those who wish to avoid the use of automobiles via the use of bicycles, walking, and in the winter, skiing.
Improving River Access
One of the key elements to a prosperous riverfront community is the actual access points that it has to the body of water next to it. The SGP, in collaboration with local partners, as well as various levels of government, works continuously to ensure that anyone who wants to physically experience the river can do so, with enhanced access to recreational aquatic activities such as fishing, and boating, including kayaking and canoeing.
The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, much like any other environmental conservancy organization, faces its fair share of obstacles both from the environment itself and occasionally, some who live in the area. “One of the challenges we have right now is that we have all these trails of varying lengths, but they aren’t all connected,” said Ellison, of the Greenway’s plethora of natural and manmade paths. “The question we have to answer is how we bring all of these little trail pieces together to create a connected network. Another big challenge that we have is in navigating the properties along the river relative to where we could put in a trail. There’s a stigma associated with trails, which is that allowing one on or near your property will attract those who will misuse or harm the land.” Ellison insists that this does not, in fact, turn out to be the case for the most part and that the creation of a trail will absolutely do more good than not. She is confidant in the organization’s ability to prosper, and to continue to connect the river to those men, women and children who live their lives beside it. After all, according to Ellison, “If you love something, you take care of it. A greenway is the perfect way to do that, by providing easy access to the river and that preservation of land, so that future generations can experience and enjoy the Susquehanna.”