Pa. Angler & Boater profiles waterway
Hard work and determination, and perhaps a little luck, put
the spotlight on the Swatara Creek Water Trail in the latest
issue of the Pennsylvania Angler & Boater magazine. For those
who don’t know, the magazine is the “official” magazine of the
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
The article graces five pages of the magazine and offers
detailed mapping and recreational opportunities as well as
historical insight into our county and the surrounding counties.
The Swatara Creek Water Trail guide is a joint effort of the
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, the Swatara Creek Watershed
Association, Canaan Valley Institute and the Pennsylvania Fish
and Boat Commission.
The 60-mile long Swatara Water Trail starts at Route 645
below Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, flows through Lebanon
County and ends at the Middletown boat launch, Dauphin County.
The trail runs through three counties and 19 municipalities.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz serves as president of the Swatara
Creek Watershed Association and has been involved in the
association for 20 years. I asked her how much work time and
money it takes to develop and run a watershed association.
“Developing a watershed association takes a small group of
people with a common goal or concern,” she said. “For SCWA, it
was Swatara State Park, which we want to see developed.”
Knowing that others want to start their own watershed
association, I asked where does one begin?
“Early on, I interviewed a lot of knowledgeable people like
Frank Meiser, CEO of the Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority, and
Earl Leiby, president of the Lebanon Historical Society,” she
recalled. “They have since passed on, but their willingness to
share their knowledge lives on in the Swatara Water Trail.
“They also took me on field trips to see the areas that we
discussed. I documented everything in pictures and kept the
files. I also kept the maps that we marked with the Union Canal
“Years later, I could pull this information together to help
create the text for the Swatara Water Trail. Other people also
provided valuable input — Joe Hovis at Fort Indiantown Gap,
Denise Donmoyer with the Pine Grove Historical Society, and
Francis Ditzler in Lickdale.”
Apparently the fire and desire was intensified as the
fledging organization began to help reclaim and maintain Swatara
“We were outraged when Pine Grove Landfill wanted to locate
at the headwaters after we worked so hard to clean up the
water,” Litz said. “We probably spent 14 nights at the
Pottsville courthouse into the wee hours of the morning to make
sure that we were heard.”
However, it seems that the rough bumps in the road to success
were met with resistance.
“After the hearings, we were sued for $10 million, but the
Civil Liberties Union ended up defending us pro bono, and the
judge ruled the action a slap suit, which was thrown out with a
stern reprimand to Rimiro, who was violating our constitutional
right of free speech to testify at a public hearing inviting
public comment,” Litz said.
But rather than simply walk away or become frightened off by
possible lawsuits, “doing what was right” outweighed any
negatives that stood in the group’s path.
“I think the whole experience made us united, stronger and
very focused,” Litz said. “We didn’t have a lot of money. We did
make a commitment of time to do what we thought was right.”
Many organizations need more than memberships to accomplish
the many great things the SWC has over the years. In the world
of grant monies allotted to associations and organizations like
SWC, the process can be painful and slow.
But Litz was more than willing to explain how it all comes
“The first grant is the hardest to obtain,” she admitted.
“You have to find an organization that thinks you can not only
carry out the proposal but keep records and file all of the
“For SCWA, that was Canaan Valley Institute. They said that
if we come to their training in Shephardstown, W.Va., at Senator
Byrd’s Environmental Center, we would get $5,000 to put toward
what we felt we needed — within reason, of course.
“As I recall, we asked for items like stationary, a digital
camera, a computer and printer, and a GPS unit. When we received
the grant, we thought it was Christmas. So, we got training on
Geographic Information Systems, advice on leveraging grant
dollars and networking, and the tangible items. The rest is
“We now have a track record of delivering on what we promise,
and agencies both keep track of things like that and share
Forming a watershed association is a lot of hard work, but
Litz enthusiastically said, “Getting your first access sponsor
is key. Convince them that they will receive good public
relations for their cooperation, maybe even an economic benefit
in the way of customers. Show them the law that relieves them of
liability if they don’t charge anyone for access.
Offer to police the area for litter once a year. It may take
some time, and perhaps several visits, but after your first
success, when someone asks who else is allowing access to their
property, you can point to that first local ‘waterway hero.’”
The benefits to the community are endless, but Litz tried to
summarize some of the more tangible.
“(It helped to) identify public access points along the
Swatara, appreciation of riparian buffers for shade and cooling
the stream, understanding the need to protect floodplains,
wetlands, the natural and cultural heritage of the area as well
as biodiversity of wildlife,” she said. “Marking trail heads
helps users to respect private property rights, too. People
certainly have the ability to experience the waterway the way
our forefathers probably did, an opportunity to exercise and
enjoy the outdoors, an understanding of why we need to protect
the Swatara Creek for drinking water to sustain our lives and
How does someone and what does it require to become a member
of the Association?
You can become an annual member for $20, a lifetime member
for $200 or a gold sponsor for $500. Each level has a
progressive incentive or set of gifts — an EELS book, an
autographed EELS book and audio CD, or both the book and CD as
well as a set of DVDs containing approximately 60 oral history
interviews used to write the EELS book.
“If you have time, you can also help us with projects,” Litz
added. “Dave McSurdy, Tom Embich and Art Schiavo have taken on
roles as Water Trail guardians to keep map boxes filled along
the Creek. Make checks payable to SCWA and mail to 2501
Cumberland St., Suite 4, Lebanon Pa. 17042.”
Find out more about the SWC by visiting their Web site at
Pick up a copy of the Pennsylvania Angler & Boater magazine
at your favorite newsstand, and enjoy the September/October 2005
issue and read all about the Swatara Creek Water Trail. If you
cannot locate the issue, contact the PFBC 705-7800.
Wolf may be reached by e-mail at
wolfang418@msn. com or
through his Web site at wolftracksfly.tripod.com.