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Chapter 7 : Swatara State Park
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The Swatara State Park is located along Swatara Creek in both Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties. The park is 3,516 acres in size and encompasses approximately eight miles of Swatara Creek within its boundaries. The origin of the park dates back to the early 1960’s. Circa 1962, the Lebanon County Water Authority and Lebanon County Planning Department proposed acquisition of the property along Swatara Creek to support an approximately 775 ac. reservoir for recreational use and supplementary water supply for the city of Lebanon. The state declined supporting the project at that time due to water quality issues.
In 1964, Project 70 was enacted. This legislation authorized $41,000,000 for the development of 22 state parks throughout the Commonwealth. The idea for a state park along Swatara Creek was reintroduced at this time. In 1969, it was concluded that the water quality issues that had defeated earlier plans for the park could be addressed and the plan for Swatara State Park was presented to the public in August of that year. The project was approved by the State in December 1969, the governor gave final approval in March 1970, and land acquisition began in 1971. Land acquisition for the park was completed and Routes 443 and 72 were relocated by 1980. Swatara State Park is the last park proposed in Project 70 that remains undeveloped.
Photo 7-1: View of relocated Route 72, abandoned roadway on right being used as a trail.
Prior to any improvements being constructed, most notably the dam and reservoir, a stipulation was included in the project approval that water quality issues would need to be improved to the point that a productive fishery could be maintained in the reservoir and an adequate quality water would be discharged for downstream use.
Throughout the 1970’s, Operation Scarlift spent over $3,000,000 to address abandoned mine drainage (AMD) and associated water quality problems in the watershed upstream from the park. In addition, over 800,000 tons of coal refuse was removed from within the park boundary. Water quality assessments completed in the 1980’s indicated water quality was improving; however, it was still insufficient to allow construction of the dam and reservoir.
In addition, since the early 1990’s numerous other mine drainage abatement and water quality improvement projects have been implemented in the Swatara Creek Watershed upstream from the State Park by the Northern Swatara Watershed Association, the Schuylkill County Conservation District, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (Pottsville District Mining Office). These projects included the Rausch Creek relocation, Stumps Run reclamation projects (1 through 3), diversion wells on Swatara Creek and Martin Run, limestone channels and drains on Swatara Creek, and constructed treatment wetlands on Lower Rauch Creek. As a result of these and the previously mentioned projects, water quality in Swatara Creek improved to the point that construction of the dam and associated reservoir at Swatara State Park was reconsidered.
Although the project continued through the 80’s, activity was limited. In 1981, the Commonwealth completed a cultural resources inventory of the park property that detailed both prehistoric and historic features located there.
An Expanded Environmental Assessment was submitted to state and federal regulatory agencies as part of the Section 404/Chapter 105-water obstruction permit application process in 1990. However, it was rejected because of deficiencies concerning the wetlands, water quality, and environmental impacts. A meeting among the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania resulted in the development of specific strategies to improve water quality and a commitment from the Commonwealth to implement them. These strategies were implemented between 1991 and 1993. In addition, studies to catalog the wetland systems in the park were completed between 1991 and 1995. A jurisdictional determination confirming the boundaries and locations for the project area wetlands was received from the USACOE in 1996.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed improvements was originally requested by the regulatory agencies. This request resulted in a series of scoping meetings being held between the agencies and Commonwealth in 1996. Following these meetings, the USACOE agreed to evaluate a permit application in lieu of an EIS with the stipulation that a decision based upon an evaluation of the application and public comment could be to: 1) issue the permit, 2) deny the permit, or 3) require that an EIS be prepared.
In January 1997, studies to support the preparation of the Section 404 and Chapter 105 permits were undertaken by the project consultants (McCormick, Taylor & Associates, Inc. and A.D. Marble & Associates Inc. as sub- consultants to Acer Engineers). Upon completion of the studies, including amphibian sampling of the project area, it was determined that the preferred alternative was the construction of a dam and reservoir at the elevation of 473 feet above sea level. This alternative would result in a 753-acre lake with 685 boatable acres (> 2’ in depth).
A permit application was completed and submitted to the USACOE in April, 1998. Public comment concerning the permit application was collected from July 15 through August 31, 1998. An estimated 80% of the comments received were in support of the proposed dam and associated reservoir. However, negative comments were received from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), EPA, Sierra Club, Appalachian Audubon Society, and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The majority of these comments were regarding impacts to wetlands, vernal pools, and old growth forests that would result from the construction of a dam on the stream and resulting inundation of the reservoir.
In January 1999, prior to a decision being made by the USACOE, the Commonwealth withdrew its permit application.
In April 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced that plans for the development of the reservoir in the near future were being halted. Amenities and improvements to the park that would complement the stream corridor without hindering possible future development of the dam and lake are now being prepared for implementation.
As stated previously, Swatara State Park is located along Swatara Creek in Schuylkill and Lebanon Counties. Currently the park contains only minimal improvements, including removal of the abandoned buildings on the park property, removal of "culm" piles for water quality improvements, relocation of PA Routes 72 and 443 to accommodate the lake behind the proposed dam on Swatara Creek, and minor improvements to the abandoned Lebanon and Tremont railroad line for use as a bike/hike trail. In addition, a Lenticular Truss bridge from Lycoming County was relocated over Swatara Creek for hikers on the Appalachian Trail and other non- motorized vehicle access into and through the park. A variety of land use types are present throughout the park. These land uses range from disturbed mine areas to mature hardwood and evergreen forests to wetlands and ponds.
Swatara State Park also has a variety of cultural features within its boundaries. Prehistoric fossils can be found in the sedimentary rock of the Upper Mahantango Formation located south of Old State Road near the Schuylkill County line. In addition, Swatara Creek State Park is located near the Tulpehocken Trail, a major historic Indian trail. Areas along Swatara Creek within the park boundaries have a high probability for containing prehistoric artifacts associated with the Indian cultures that formerly resided along the stream. Several sections of the Union Canal, its locks, and associated dam can also be found within the park boundaries. Finally, a substantial section of the Lebanon and Tremont rail line runs through the park. The Lebanon and Tremont Railroad was a line purchased by the Reading and Philadelphia railroad following the demise of the Union Canal.
Photo 7-2:Relocated lenticular truss bridge carrying the Appalachian Trail over Swatara Creek.
The improvement plans proposed for the park could be divided into 1) construction of a dam and associated reservoir formation and 2) development of park amenities. The proposed dam would have inundate the park along the Swatara Creek to an elevation 473 feet above sea level. The "Big Dam" located at Inwood previously inundated much of the area proposed as reservoir in the park. This dam helped to supply water to the Union Canal until a massive flood in 1862 washed out the dam.
The proposed reservoir would provide "flatwater" recreation within the park including fishing, boating, sailing, etc. In addition, the reservoir might also be used as a supplemental source of drinking water for the City of Lebanon.
The park amenities would include day use areas including boat access points, trail access points, rest rooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, interpretive sites (historic and environmental), and scenic overlooks/views. Other amenities would include tent and modern cabin camping areas, an administration building, and a multi-use trail.
Additional management options for the development or expansion of the park may be developed as a result of the Swatara Creek Watershed River Conservation Plan.
Continue Reading Chapter 8 of the RCP
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