Step back in time on the Susquehanna Trail

Just outside of Williamsport, there is a little island with a big and storied history — a place laced with trails and tales of days gone by. From the Native Americans who once called it home to wartime narratives of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, this little Susquehanna gem has seen it all and has a trail to talk about it.

Canfield Island lies just east of the Susquehanna Greenway River Town of Williamsport, at river mile 37 along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Water Trail.

This half-moon shaped slice of land, managed by Loyalsock Township, is home to the James P. Bressler Heritage Trail–a 0.5-mile circuit path, complete with educational signage about the people and stories of the island and adorned with a variety of flora, fauna and glimpses of the mighty Susquehanna.

Exploring this little Greenway getaway, keep in mind that this piece of land did not, in fact, start out as an island at all.

During its early history, Native Americans settled the then-connected area along the mouth of the Loyalsock Creek, which would later become the village and the trading post of Otstonwakin that served as a vitally important location during the settlement of Lycoming County.

It wasn’t until the 19th and early 20th centuries that Canfield gained its title as an “island” when a local sawmill excavated an inland channel to better float their logs to their lumber mill, thus severing the land mass from the mainland.

The greater Williamsport area was among the largest of the lumber communities in the region and this division is another modern marker of how the landscape was forever changed by the men and women of the Lumber Era who made their fortunes clearing the hills surrounding the community.

Other highlights of this trail include a history of the nearby “Cannon Hole” from the French and Indian War, a frightening massacre during the Revolutionary War, and a historic Indian trail that now lies underneath some modern roads we know well today.

To commemorate the island’s Native American history, a pow wow is held annually by local Native Americans in August to allow visitors an opportunity to experience the unique traditions once present on the island.

Due to its historic significance, Canfield Island was excavated on several occasions between the 1960s and the 1980s under the leadership of historian, educator, and archaeologist James P. Bressler–the namesake for the trail. The history that flowed from Canfield Island resulted in its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and its transition into a beautiful park open to the public today.

If a 0.5-mile trail brimming with history is not enough for you. We suggest hopping on the Loyalsock Bikeway and traveling West to the Susquehanna River Walk and Timber Trail that runs 4.2 miles along the northern and southern banks of the river in Williamsport.

This connecting trail offers additional educational signage about the lumber heritage of the region, birding guides, as well as lumber-themed public art like the “The Wood Hick,” a life-sized sculpture of a lumber camp worker. The trail also provides connections to the neighboring communities of Montoursville and Loyalsock Township, which together create a combined trail of about 10.5 miles.

Whether you explore the trail or just enjoy the views, one thing is for sure Canfield Island is teeming with history and natural beauty. Take a step–or two–back in time and travel the paths of the people and events that made history along the Susquehanna right in your backyard.

The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP) is committed to building connections along the Susquehanna River and encouraging communities and individuals to engage with the many outdoor opportunities along the Susquehanna Greenway.

SGP and its partners invite you to join us for the inaugural Tri-Town Trail Ride on September 28, 2019. This event will explore the 10.5-mile trail network connecting Williamsport, South Williamsport, Loyalsock Township, and Montoursville. Participants will learn about the history along the trail and gain tools and information to explore the area independently.

For more information about these trails, the Tri-Town Trail Ride, and other outdoor events and activities in your area, please visit our website: susquehannagreenway.org. You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook.

Alana Jajko is the AmeriCorps Communications and Outreach Assistant for the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. Her work is focused on promoting trails and communities within our vibrant and connected Susquehanna Greenway, so that people like you can enjoy opportunities to engage with the outdoors. Alana can be reached at ajajko@susquehannagreenway.org.