Swattie group hooks grant

By BRAD RHEN
Staff Writer
Lebanon Daily News
  05/26/2009

Thanks to a $90,000 grant from the state Fish and Boat Commission, the Swatara Watershed Association’s acquisition of Union Canal Canoe Rentals is one step closer to reality.  

Once the grant money is received, the association will seek a loan from Jonestown Bank the for remainder of the money needed for the purchase, according to Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, who is president of the association.

“We are waiting on the executed agreement with Fish and Boat before we can settle,” Litz said. “Then, we still have to raise several tens of thousands of dollars before we can complete the transaction.”

The business sits on a nearly 34-acre parcel along the Swatara Creek at 1929 Blacks Bridge Road in East Hanover Township. In addition to boat access, the site has 3,341 feet of fishable banks and riparian buffers that shade and cool the creek, slow evaporation and limit runoff and erosion. The site also adjoins two Union Canal locks.

The property has been improved with a 960-square-foot pavilion, a 240-square-foot office, a permeable parking lot and an approved public water source. There is currently a nine-hole “pitch-and-putt” golf course on the property, but, Litz said, it will not be kept.

With Father’s Day approaching — it falls on June 21 this year — Litz is hoping the property will help children create memories with their fathers for generations to come.

“I can remember, as a Sunday school teacher, for Father’s Day one year interviewing a bunch of children and asking them what their most memorable experience was with their father, and almost everyone of them said ‘going fishing,’ and I will never forget that,” Litz said. “I think this will be a great tribute to fathers everywhere.”

Because the association’s annual Swatara Sojourn canoe trip and creek cleanup starts or ends the at this site each year, it considers the site to be the heart of the Swatara Creek Water Trail, which is recognized by both Pennsylvania as a State Water Trail and by the nation as part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.  

“It’s the centerpoint on the water trail, so we use that as either the starting point or ending point of our sojourn,” Litz said. “It’s like the cog in the wheel because it’s what joins together the northern and southern sections of the trail. It is the only launch that gets used every year.”

In addition to the Fish and Boat Commission grant, the association has also received $192,100 from state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, $30,000 in equity from current owners Bill and Ruth Wise, $10,000 from The Hershey Co., $4,000 in in-kind legal work from attorney Chuck Henry, and $1,000 from the Lebanon County Conservation District.  

“We’ve had some smaller contributions, and they do all add up, but we need to continue to raise money for the purchase,” Litz said.

The association must raise the balance of the 50 percent required match for DCNR. It still needs to raise funds to complete the transaction. In addition to the purchase of the property, money is also needed for signs, surveys and closing costs.  

Anyone interested in making a donation may send a check payable to the Swatara Watershed Association, 2501 Cumberland St., Suite 4, Lebanon PA 17042. The SWA is a 501C3 non-profit organization.

After settlement, which will take several months, the property will be open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

BradRhen@LDNews.com