The Bushkill Stream Conservancy: Partnering for Conservation Success
When busy people volunteer for time-consuming tasks, you can believe they care about what they are doing.
One such collective of civic-minded volunteers run Northampton County’s Bushkill Stream Conservancy (BSC). By giving a platform to what is otherwise voiceless, this diverse group of about two dozen folks is shedding light upon the importance of this quiet stream.
The Bushkill (and tributaries such as Sobers Run and the Little Bushkill) flow from Blue Mountain through Jacobsburg State Park and Stockertown before feeding into the Delaware River in Easton. It shares a name with the tourist-attracting Bushkill of Pike County (of Resica and Bushkill Falls fame) but is an entirely separate stream.
The BSC began in 1991 when a group of local businesspeople, educators and citizens saw an opportunity to create a recreational trail corridor on land near the stream – once a railroad passageway. Interest in the stream grew, and the need for conservation was acknowledged.
“I spent the majority of my childhood along either the Bushkill Creek or Delaware River. Now as an adult I find myself drawn back and especially love sharing the resource with young people.” – Joe Baylog, Trout Unlimited
Through extensive collaboration with kindred organizations, the group has evolved to lead award-winning projects, monitor and protect water quality, conduct studies and advise municipal officials, encourage learning and enjoyment and more. Grants fund all its work, essentially funneling money into the community, and the list of partners is long.
“That’s primarily what the Bushkill Stream Conservancy is: It’s a public-private partnership,” said Kathy Altmann, a board member for approximately eight years who is now the Conservancy’s president.
One strong partner is the Forks of Delaware Trout Unlimited. Since the Bushkill is a Class A wild trout stream, “TU’s mission is a great complement to the stewardship that the BSC provides,” said Joe Baylog, the chapter’s president. “I spent the majority of my childhood along either the Bushkill Creek or Delaware River. Now as an adult I find myself drawn back and especially love sharing the resource with young people. The Bushkill is an incredibly diverse recreational and educational opportunity that we feel just needs to be rediscovered by our communities.”
Altmann is also motivated by a love for the outdoors. She believes many our human problems are related to a “nature deficit,” and thus sees infinite possibilities in the BSC’s work.
Through the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, BSC received a grant from the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation to install two pollinator gardens at the Easton Children’s Home this year. The Home – a respite where children are taught a sense of well-being and responsibility – is installing orchards and vegetable gardens. In addition to providing food for the facility, the gardens will be a teaching tool for environmental stewardship, life skills, and as the plan progresses, even agricultural entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile, the flowering plants will boost production by attracting bees and the like. They will also bring the topics of native-plant ecology and pollination to the teaching table. One 20-square-foot pollinator garden will be located in the center of the vegetable garden and a second will be near a pavilion and herb garden. A five-year plan includes maintenance and upkeep.
Joe Judge, BSC board member and master gardener with thousands of volunteer hours will help with plant selection and planning. He has introduced gardening to troubled kids in the past, and has seen how it can help them. Judge said, “I hope that they take a little bit of something that we talk about with them.”
The BSC helps municipal officials involved with infrastructure construction and management.
One example is in Easton’s Sullivan Park. The ball field there was almost always too wet to play on. When Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, flooding caused significant property damage downhill. BSC and other partners teamed up with nearby Lafayette College. The students and professors engineered and installed a wetland on the site. It absorbed the stormwater runoff, improved water quality, provided habitat for birds and other wildlife and reduced flooding. The design has been functioning so well, it earned Pennsylvania’s 2014 Green Parks Award.
Working with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, BSC monitors 24 sites throughout the entire watershed every month. Some participants such as Judge have been monitoring for 20 years. He said, “I wanted to keep busy; I’m 87 years old. In order to keep from getting older, you have to keep moving.” Past and present, the data paint a valuable picture of the health of this living ecosystem.
Outreach and Involvement
Use BSC’s Two Rivers Area Birding and Natural History Trail of Northampton County guide map to explore the Bushkill watershed on your own. Or find displays at events such as the Plainfield Farmer’s Fair, Adventures in Agriculture at the Palmer Park Mall and the Lehigh Valley Greenways festival scheduled for September 26 in Jacobsburg State Park. Altmann also noted, “Our board meetings are always welcome to anyone. We have a volunteer pool, and we have a friends and partners list.” Contact her at [email protected] or visit bushkill.org to learn more.