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SWATARA WATERSHED ASSOCIATION

Lebanon, PA USA

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Book shares Swatara stories

By JOHN FEASER

For The Daily News

LICKDALE -- Contributors to "Envisioning an Environmental Legacy for the Swatara," an oral history project, gathered yesterday at Twin Grove Park to sign copies of the new 182-page book.

A project of the Swatara Creek Watershed Association, the book features articles on the American eel, history of the Swatara Creek region, mining, agriculture, recreation and Hurricane Agnes, and abstracts from interviews with 65 contributors who share their memories of the area. The book includes photos, maps and recipes for preparing eels.

The project began as a suggestion of Cannon Valley Institute, West Virginia, which provided camcorders, recorders and training for 12 interviewers and photographers, who sought out area residents and former residents who had something to tell about life along the Swatara Creek and its tributaries, said county Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, president of the watershed association and editor of the book.

The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network also sponsored the project. The book, which cost $16,000 to print, is dedicated to the sponsors and to Fort Indiantown Gap for its technical assistance.

DVDs of complete interviews will be placed in the historical societies in Lebanon, Pine Grove and Derry Township, Litz said.

Among the contributors of oral data was Raymond J. Swingholm, Annville, who described a day in the 1930s when he set out from Hebron in South Lebanon, where he resided at the time, to follow the Quittapahilla Creek to Valley Glenn, where it empties into the Swatara Creek.

The Swatara Creek runs about 100 miles as it drains parts of Schuylkill, Lebanon, Berks and Dauphin counties on the way to the Susquehanna River at Middletown. Its main tributaries are the Quittapahilla, Little Swatara and Manada creeks.

In Craig Morgan's interview, the Pine Grove resident explains the effect of cattle and dairy farms on the creek and steps that have been taken to improve its banks.

Verna Miller, Jonestown, recalled the events associated with a store she and her husband, Harold, ran for 35 years at the west end of Fort Indiantown Gap.

And James Logan, Lebanon, recalled swimming in the Swatara and expressed his continuing interest in seeking wild flowers and birds in Swatara State Park.

Litz said the book will be offered as an incentive to increase membership in the watershed association. An annual $20 membership will get the applicant an unsigned book. Those signing up for life membership at $200 will get a signed book, a compact disc of the book for reading on computers and a compact disc containing an abbreviated version of the book for listening. Gordon Weise, a newscaster with WLBR, will record the book, she said.

Litz said that eventually the book will find its way into the hands of every elected official in the region with the hope that it will be used as a planning tool. Copies also will be placed in local libraries.

The watershed association, which currently has more than 100 members, is dedicated to clean water through education, conservation and good stewardship of the environment.

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Swattie storytellers

The Daily News (Editorial 12/12/04)

Oh, if the Swatara Creek could speak, what stories it could tell of animals great and small; native Americans living by its flowing waters; the coming of the pioneers and the first Pennsylvania Dutch settlers to live beside it; the ascendance of industry; the years of coal mining, the Union Canal and local rail traffic; the sad decades of polluted illness; and, more recently and more happily, decades of work by dedicated individuals to undo some of the harm earlier done.

The Swattie can't speak, but there are many who can speak for it, and they have done so with great nostalgia and great love for the waterway that flows down through Swatara Gap and meanders across the Lebanon Valley.

The project is EELS Envisioning an Environmental Legacy for the Swatara and it is an overview of the watershed and, in great part, an oral history with dozens of folks who have a connection with the Swattie. It was organized by the Swatara Creek Watershed Association, headed by Jo Ellen Litz, and it is a multimedia offering.

First, there is the oversize softcover book, decorated with the pictures of many local folks who were interviewed as part of the companion oral-history project. Those oral histories were videotaped and will provide a lasting testament of memory on behalf of the waterway in the years to come.

Among those interviewed: State Sen. David J. Brightbill, who has been an ardent supporter of the development of Swatara State Park and in particular of construction of a long-long-long-awaited dam. He retells a favorite story: How he and his father built a boat in the basement of their home in the late 1960s with the intent of sailing it on Swatara Lake. He's still awaiting his chance to ply the waters, but the story is a good one, well-received whenever it's told.

Phil Feather, Annville attorney and former Lebanon County Commissioner, talks of his "Swataree Safari," a three-hour innertube float on the creek from Harpers to Blacks Bridge that's been held on the Saturday after the Fourth of July for 20 years.

Ray Swingholm of Annville recalls catching eels but not eating them and mudpuppies (foot-and-a-half-long salamanders) in the Swattie in the 1930s.

Evelyn Isele of Jonestown does Swingholm one better, recalling both catching and eating the freshwater eels.

The book is a fascinating look at what the Swatara Creek and its watershed have meant to so many people for so many years. It is a credit to the watershed association that it chose to undertake this project, and we and all those who come after us should be grateful that so many voices with such vast knowledge of the creek were still here to be heard.

We recognize that there are many voices and many memories of the Swattie that have been lost forever. While it may not do justice to single out just one stilled voice, we do so in honor of Franklin Meiser, who long held a vision for the improvement of the watershed and who maintained that doing simple things like building impoundments and letting the Swattie's water wash over a limestone field would do great things toward restoration of the creek. His voice is not included in this project, though his work lives on in the memories of many who did speak for the project.

Thanks again to the watershed association for the loving craft by which they brought this project to fruition.

To join the association, send a check for $20 made payable to SWA to 2302 Guilford St., Lebanon, PA 17046. For mailing of an EELS book, add $4 shipping and handling, for a total of $24. More information is available at www.mbcomp.com/swatara/

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