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Susquehanna Greenway Partnership provides pandemic escape

PHOTO PROVIDED Cyclists on the Pine Creek Rail Trail during the SGP West Branch Sojourn.

For the past five years, Corey Ellison has been hard at work educating the region about the parks and trails that line the Susquehanna River’s banks. As the executive director of the nonprofit Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP) based in Lewisburg, she knows first-hand how important the greenway is to the 500-mile river corridor that encompasses 23 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

So, what is a greenway? As Ellison puts it, if you can see the river, you’re in the Susquehanna Greenway. To be precise though, the Susquehanna Greenway is a corridor of parks, trails, and communities along the Susquehanna River within Pennsylvania.

Once completed, the Susquehanna Greenway will become the largest greenway in Pennsylvania and link natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources from as far west as Indiana County, south to Lancaster County, east to Lackawanna County and north to Bradford County. That includes all of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and northcentral Pennsylvania counties.

“The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership not only works with our network of partners to build connections between these landmarks so that residents can walk, bike, or paddle from town to town along the river, but we also provide the informational resources needed for people to get outdoors and engage with the greenway,” Ellison said.

Access to these outdoor opportunities is central to the health and well-being of residents within the 500-mile corridor of the greenway.

PHOTOS PROVIDED Alice Trowbridge, SGP coordinator, conducting a presentation on boat access.

“If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that there are many benefits of staying active outside, both for our mental and physical condition and general quality of life,” Ellison said. “Plus, trails have been proven to bring economic vitality to our communities as people convene in our charming river towns following these outdoor adventures.”

It’s no surprise that when businesses and schools closed in spring 2020, many local residents were looking for something to do.

“Since the pandemic began, more people have turned to the outdoors as a refuge from the restrictions of COVID-19,” Ellison said. “The land and water trails within the Susquehanna Greenway and throughout the state have provided a needed platform for individuals and families to connect and focus on their mental and physical health – all while maintaining safe COVID-19 practices.”

Ellison noted it is a trend seen nationally as a direct result of the pandemic. The NPD Group Market Research recorded changes in U.S. sales from March/April 2019 to March/April 2020 by an increase of 85% in kayaks and an increase of 121% in bicycles, with that trend only continuing throughout the remainder of the year.

“We saw it first-hand as outdoor available equipment became scarce throughout the season,” Ellison added. “One Facebook user even commented, ‘Kayaks, the new toilet paper!’ “

PHOTOS PROVIDED Above, SGP’s traveling gallery on display during the Pop-Up Paddle in 2020. Below, Attendees to the opening of the North Branch Canal Trail.

With the significant boost of interest in outdoor recreation since the pandemic, the SGP has been busy producing educational resources for both new and returning outdoor enthusiasts.

“As the state-appointed manager for the 228-mile Susquehanna River Water Trail – West Branch and 35-plus mile Susquehanna River Water Trail-Lower North Branch – we’ve been especially focused on the water trail, following the boom in interest for paddling,” Ellison said.

To support local paddlers, the SGP is updating the 16-panel waterproof map and guide for the West Branch, as well as, working with its community partners to update the North Branch map and guide. The organization also is building an online interactive map where recreationalists can peruse trails, river access, and river towns in preparation for any adventure out on the greenway.

“Another initiative we’ve recently launched is West Branch Paddle Club (WBPC), a program geared towards providing key resources for water trail users and celebrating the recreational paddlers who explore the West Branch of the Susquehanna River,” Ellison said. “The program splits the 228-mile water trail into four segments based on mileage and available boat launches, allowing paddlers the option of paddling just one segment or completing all four for the full experience.”

Moving forward, the SGP and its partners throughout the greenway have seen a need to meet the growing demand for equipment and educational resources to assist people with their outdoor adventures. However, longer-term solutions such as improved amenities at existing sites and new trails and river access sites are also moving forward with new momentum following 2020’s trends.

And that aligns perfectly with the partnership’s vision to “to create a greenway that builds connections along the Susquehanna River, inspire people to engage with the outdoors, and transform communities into places where people want to live, work, and explore.”

“SGP continues to work with our network of designated Susquehanna Greenway River Towns to envision, plan and implement projects and programs within their community,” Ellison said. “In April 2021, staff will be working with these communities on a coordinated Susquehanna Greenway River Town Cleanup. During this event, each community and their River Town team will host an interactive event focused on beautifying their section of the greenway in some manner. Communities have litter pickups, tree plantings and educational events prepared for 2021.”

The organization also hosts events throughout the year. On the docket for 2021, National Trails Day Celebration, Susquehanna Float and Films (where a float on the river is paired with a paddling film festival), a Susquehanna Pop-Up Paddle in the fall and two Scenes and Sips events that celebrate the winners of the annual photo contest.

“Our role at the SGP is to connect people with the hiking, biking, and paddling opportunities of the Susquehanna Greenway,” Ellison said. “If you live within the vicinity of one of our many charming river towns, you don’t have to go far to find a trail. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.”

Jessica Welshans, of Rauchtown, an avid outdoors enthusiast, is someone who spends time in various parts of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership lands.

“There is always something out there to do, for anyone. You can be into many things outdoor-related or find a niche – but the outdoors is always there when you need it and even when you think you do not,” she said.

She added that a lot of people who love the outdoors – and spend a great deal of their time there – want to share that with others through kayaking, hunting, hiking, fishing camping and bird watching.

“I don’t think many people in central Pennsylvania know that they live within a 25-mile drive to a state park. And there are countless bodies of water – rivers, streams, reservoir areas – that provide recreational opportunities,” Welshans said. “The outdoors is what keeps a person curious about the world, and I think that is what I love the most about it.”

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