Heritage Region Names New Water Trail Branch Managers

Keith Brown (top, with his children Owen and Mackenzie) has been named the Water Trail Manager for the section of the Susquehanna River North Branch that runs from Sayre south to Laceyville. Dana Rockwell (above) and Art Coolbaugh (below) will manage the water trail in Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, respectively.

Five new managers of segments of the Susquehanna River North Branch Water Trail have been named by the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR). Water trail managers help paddlers by monitoring conditions at boat access and camping areas, coordinating cleanups and educational river events, and serving as ambassadors for the segments of the multi-state Captain James Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail that run through Susquehanna, Bradford, Wyoming and Luzerne counties.

All five trail managers are expert paddlers with a passion for the river,” EMHR executive director Annette Schultz explained. “We are working together to protect, improve and promote this nationally-significant water trail that can attract visitors to the area and benefit local economies.”

Some are relatively new to the organization, while the rest worked in various capacities with EMHR when David Buck served as the trail manager for the entire stretch of the river from Berwick north to Sayre and the 17-mile stretch within Susquehanna County. Buck is retiring from the position but will remain with the EMHR long enough to complete an overhaul of the North Branch Water Trail maps.

Susquehanna Depot borough council member Dana Rockwell is also head of Friends of Starrucca Creek and will serve as the trail manager for the river as it flows past Lanesboro, Oakland, Susquehanna, Hallstead and Great Bend. Keith Brown, the new owner of Endless Mountains Outfitters (EMO) at Sugar Run and a phys ed and health teacher at Towanda Area High School, will manage the river from Sayre to Laceyville. Art Coolbaugh, owner of Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rental in Falls, will manage the river from Laceyville to Pittston. Keystone College graduate and former EMO paddle guide Emily Rinaldi will manage the section from Pittston to Wilkes-Barre. Dan Shane is the owner of Five Mountain Outfitters in Shickshinny as well as a radiation safety consultant for the Berwick Nuclear Power Plant and will manage the section from Wilkes-Barre to it’s confluence with the West Branch at Shamokin Dam.

Rinaldi (above) will also serve as a water trail coordinator, helping EMHR with sojourns, RiverTown celebrations, and other river-related events. Rinaldi hopes to see use of the river for recreation increase as more access points are upgraded. “The river can heal the mind and rejuvenate the soul after a hard week’s work,” she remarked.

I feel that recreation on the river is an under-tapped resource with most of the population being rather disconnected with one of the most prominent features of the local landscape,” said Rockwell, who, with a growing number of associates in Susquehanna County, takes stewardship of natural resources seriously. His Friends group has been conducting spring clean-ups of Starrucca Creek since 2012, having removed more than 3,000 tires and 45 tons of trash. “I believe that the more people that experience and enjoy the river, the more voices we will have for its future protection.”

When we started putting people on the water in rental kayaks, the clients were amazed at the beauty along this section of the river,” said Shane (below). “Having paddlers return with stories of what they saw is so rewarding.” The lower section of the North Branch features rapids at Nanticoke and below the Nescopeck/Berwick Bridge, he noted, and the remains of old eel weirs.

River paddling offers constantly changing scenery and water conditions, making for an enjoyable trip each time you are on the water,” Coolbaugh offered. “I enjoy introducing new paddlers to the river so they can enjoy nature’s creatures and to know that the beautiful outdoors is so close to home.”

I spent a lot of time fishing the Susquehanna River with my grandfather and father after we finished milking the cows,” Brown related. “All five sections are great for fishing, camping, and kayaking but mostly making memories with your friends, family, and people you haven’t met yet.”

There are many ways to look at the river, and guided sojourns are perhaps the best way to garner the greatest appreciation for the history, the aesthetics, and the environmental impacts and challenges.

The 2011 flooding changed the area dramatically,” Shane noted. From his perspective, “If Shickshinny were to survive, the town would have to embrace the very thing that caused the damage.” Rinaldi, who frequents the Wyoming Valley area to fish and kayak, uses her degree in environmental resource management to put together educational programs for youths and adults. Brown likes to share with students stories about the Native Americans and early settlers of French Asylum who used the North Branch as a highway before roadways had been constructed.

To Rockwell, Shane and Coolbaugh, the river remains a highway and a catalyst to tourism. In addition to the beauty and the solitude, Rockwell appreciates the opportunity the water trail affords for “river travel, adventure and fishing.” Many of the enhanced access points bring water recreationists right into downtown areas, Coolbaugh noted. “They can combine a paddle with dinner, hiking, yoga and many more activities.”

The EMHR is in the process now of soliciting local school districts for its annual Student Sojourn, which will be held May 18 to 20. Another sojourn for participants ages 12 and older is being planned in the Great Bend area on July 28 and 29. For more information, interested readers may call EMHR at 570-265-1528.

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