Category Archives: Outdoors

What Is Acid Mine Drainage

Since my post last week, I thought I had better clarify what Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is. I dug through the files and came up with an essay from my days back in BAMR.  I hope this clarifies things.

Cooks Run at the confluence with Camp Run.

What is Acid Mine Drainage?  The answer is pretty simple and pretty complex.  The simple answer is Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is any water that comes from a mine with a pH less than 7.   

Now the complex answer.  Let’s start with the water cycle.  Water falls as rain or snow from the clouds and settles on the Earth.  If it doesn’t hit a body of water it either becomes surface water or groundwater.  Surface water runs off and is the basis for flow in many freestone streams.  Think of the streams that feed Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. After a rain or snow melt event they go right up.  Then, just as quick they go back down.  These streams are very dependent on surface water. Water that doesn’t immediately flow into streams becomes groundwater.  Sometimes it has a short flow path measured in hours to go from one place to another, and sometimes it has a long flow path taking eons to go from point A to point B.  Groundwater is the base flow of our lovely little brook trout streams, the limestoners and all rivers and other bodies of water.  When the groundwater drops, down goes the stream.  Groundwater and surface water is often intercepted by man for uses such as drinking, manufacturing, agriculture and making beer and things of that ilk.  Eventually though it is evaporated or transpired by organisms and off to the atmosphere it goes to eventually fall on another part of this blue orb we call home. 

            Now we start getting technical.  When coal was formed back before there was television, video games and the WWE it was laid down as a layer of carbon bearing materials which were plants….not animals.  Over these deposits of ferns, mosses and the lichen (sorry just a little play on words and a poor one at that), minerals of various kinds were deposited.  Coarse grain mineral deposits became sandstone, fine grained deposits became shale.  Depending on the environment these minerals were dropped in determined the quality of the strata over the compressed plants that would eventually become coal.  Some areas that became inundated by the ocean were covered by deposits of limestone.  Some river bottoms had large quantities of sand and silt that was mostly leached of soluble minerals.  Brackish environments full of mud received mineral deposits near where freshwater met the oceans like the Chesapeake Bay.  These deposits were often laid down in an environment quite different from the oxygen rich environment we live in today.  The sandstone and shale piled up quite rapidly (geologically speaking) and their intense downward pressure caused the plant matter beneath to become coal. 

            Okay so after a few million years or so humans found that this black stone cropping out of the cliff burned.  Image the first person to discover that and report back to the tribe.  They probably stoned him for being a witch.  But it was too late.  The genie had been let from the bottle and the race for industrialization was on.  Fast forward now to the early 18th century.  America was a new and growing land.  Resources were plentiful and appeared to the 18th century citizen as limitless.  Lo and behold after the Europeans got established in Pennsylvania they discovered coal.  Bituminous coal was found in western Pennsylvania and Anthracite was found in the northeastern corner of the state.  As the country prospered this fuel source was exploited and the population grew causing greater demand.  Since the coal was laid in layers called seams in the Bituminous fields and veins in the Anthracite fields and the Earth had shifted and it wasn’t exactly level to begin with there was a slope to the coal that came to be called the dip.

Groundwater, remember what that is, was often associated with the coal seams as aquifers (underground water storage reservoirs) because the underclay (the primordial soil on which the plants that formed coal grew) was relatively impervious (water was unable to readily pass through it thus forming what is called an aquatard).  Well the early miners weren’t that dumb.  They found if they started on the up dip side of the coal seam the hole they were working in quickly filled with water and either they or their mule would drown.  Since mules were hard to come by they decided that if they started on the down dip side and mine up, the water would run out of the mine and away from them thus saving them from the exasperating experience of having to perform artificial respiration on a mule who neither cared nor wanted a grizzled old tobacco chewing miner breathing up his nostrils. 

            In the Anthracite region things were a bit different.  Anthracite coal is actually metamorphosed and the veins were folded and compressed.  At the bottom of the fold was the greatest concentration of coal. Of course this is also where the greatest collection of water is.  To solve this problem they dug tunnels through the mountain to drain the water away. 

            Now, remember the overlying rock.  There are mineral deposits in them called sulfides.  The most common one associated with coal is pyrite or ‘fools gold’.  Fools gold has a nasty habit.  When it is exposed to air and water it can form sulfuric acid.  The fools gold in the overburden is already exposed to water in the form of groundwater but there is no oxygen deep in the ground.  Here come the miners and what do they do.  Well, it’s sort of like opening a door on a smoldering fire in the wood stove.  Poof!   So now you have a mine generating sulfuric acid.  That is a bad thing insofar as fish are concerned.   

            If the coal was lucky enough to have a limestone layer deposited over top of it, the water leaching through the rock (henceforth called overburden) received alkalinity as it made its way to the coal.  This was enough alkalinity that it neutralized the acid.  If the overburden was sandstone or a brackish shale there would be no neutralization and the acid would flow out of the mine unabated. 

            Now I want you to think back to your high school chemistry class.  Did you ever see sulfuric acid?  Was it yellow?  Of course it wasn’t yellow!  It was clear, and if you had been paying more attention to the lab work and not your lab partner in the mini-skirt (sorry ladies this doesn’t apply to you) you might have remembered this.  Well then, just where does the orange color come from? 

            Well, in the overburden, the coal and the mine floor there are metals.  In Pennsylvania they are primarily Iron, Manganese and Aluminum.  These metals dissolve in acid.  When there are a lot of metals in solution and they are exposed to air, or they mix with water of a high pH they deposit on whatever happens to be handy, like rocks in the stream.  Iron is the most common because it comes out of pyrite.  Pyrite is made of iron and sulfur.  This iron causes the yellow, orange and reds seen in streams across Pennsylvania and has acquired the name of “Yellow Boy”.  Manganese forms a black precipitate.  Aluminum is a white precipitate.  One of the most common sources of aluminum is not from the overburden but from the mine floor where it is leached from the underclay.  Elemental sulfur is almost never found as a precipitate. 

            Iron and Manganese are not usually in and of themselves toxic.  Instead they smother the aquatic substrate and the organisms that live there by a depositional effect.  Aluminum on the other hand is deadly at low pH.  At a pH of 5.5, aluminum in concentrations of 0.5 mg/L will usually kill all fish and most macroinvertebrates.  Other metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, and so on are also present but usually in much, much smaller amounts. 

            But it just keeps getting better.  There are microbes called “ferrobacters“ that actually enhance the production of AMD.  These little critters thrive in AMD and actually speed up the reaction. 

            Surface mining that came along around the time of World War II exposed huge quantities of pyrite bearing overburden to air and water.  Underground mines left huge voids to be exposed to air and water.  Out of the drain tunnels drilled into the anthracite mines flowed massive amounts of water.  Pennsylvania coal mines began generating and continue to generate this mixture of acid and metals and unless abated will continue on for the next millennium or so. 

Two samples of AMD are as follows. 

The Oneida #3 Discharge (Anthracite Tunnel Discharge) 

pH 4.4

Sulfates 45 mg/L

Total Iron  .141 mg/L

Manganese  .474 mg/L

Aluminum 1.950 mg/L

Acidity 16.4 mg/l

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 1399 gpm 

The Camp Run Discharge (Surface Mine Discharge in Northern

Bituminous Field) 

pH 2.4

Sulfates 1740 mg/L

Total Iron 10.92 mg/L

Manganese 46.3 mg/L

Aluminum 249 mg/L

Acidity 2768 mg/L

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 5 gpm 

Deep Mine seep into Cooks Run at Bear Hollow

            Both samples are AMD.  Both samples are capable of clearing most normal aquatic life for miles downstream.  So to answer the complex question of what is AMD?  The generally accepted answer is water with a pH less than 5, Sulfates greater than an undisturbed background sample or 50 mg/L, metals elevated beyond undisturbed background samples and acidity greater than alkalinity.  This begs a few other questions.  Is all drainage from mines acidic?  No.  Do all mines leach metals?  Probably in some form or another.  Are certain areas better to mine in than others?  Yes.  Can trout survive in mine drainage?  Yes provided the metal content is low and the pH is not severely depressed.  Does AMD only come from coal mines?  No.  Other types of mines develop it as well, particularly clay mines and in the western states metal mines. Even road cuts that expose coal seams can generate AMD. These and other questions are the subject of thousands of technical articles, books and reports.   

There is a lot of new and interesting science being developed to treat this catastrophic problem.  The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation estimates that over 7,000 miles of streams do not meet the clean streams standards of Pennsylvania because of mining.  But things are better now than they were even just a few years ago.  Pointing fingers and saying who is to blame is pointless.  It was the energy from coal, Pennsylvania coal that provided the materials to keep us from speaking German or Japanese.  Coal is the fuel that is probably providing the electricity to your computer so that you can read this.  It has been a good energy source and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  New technology will help it to be mined cleaner and burned cleaner. New technology will also allow for us to find ways to treat or eliminate the pernicious problem of AMD.


Forty Years of AMD in Cooks Run – Camp Run and Rock Ru

Me, sitting on Dad’s lap with my brother and sister fishing in Cooks Run, 1955

Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.

As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.

Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.

Cooks Run above the AMD impacted area.

In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.

At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.

Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.

Cooks Run downstream of Camp Run following the mining in 1977

By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!

This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.

In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.

While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.

Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.

In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.

By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.

Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.

After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.

A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.

One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.

With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.

In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.

The drilling crew, August 1992, intern Angie, Joe Schueck, Me, the drillers, Jim and Denny
Casing a hole. Me, Joe and Denny

Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.

At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.

A pod of AMD material that has been drilled and cased. The casing was cut and a fitting glued to the top. This field was called “Snake City”

Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.

Me and Joe pumping grout.

Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold we had to abandon the project for the year.

Me, Joe Vatter (a volunteer) and Joe Schueck. Joe is holding one of the perforated casings.

Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.

We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.

Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.

Joe Schueck (in coveralls) testing one of the anoxic passive treatment bench test systems.

Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.

By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.

Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.

Remining on the small site to the east of the injection site.
The injection site in 2017 ready to be remined.

Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.

In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.

23rd Rivers Conservation Camp Concludes

The 23rd Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp concluded at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg yesterday. The students, staff and the folks at Messiah did an outstanding job in bringing about the success of the camp. For an overview of the camp please view the slide show prepared by staff member Kelsey Miller at

PA Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp

This week is the 23rd Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. Our venue this year is at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg.

We have a great group of students and they are learning a lot. For many it is their first experience at what college life might be like. What a great group to work with.  They are learning the sciences behind coldwater conservation, doing habitat repair, learning to tie flies and so much more. As I type this they are learning advanced fishing techniques. For more information go to

The Pennsylvania camp is the oldest in the nation and now there are 22 modeled after this one.

Legislation That Created the Allegheny National Forest and Strengthened Forest Fire Protection in Pennsylvania

On March 1, 1911, President Taft signed the Weeks Act into law. The Weeks Act authorized the federal government to create national forests on lands within watersheds of navigable streams or rivers. These new public lands would be used to regulate stream flow and revitalize the forests. They would be under the control of the U.S. Forest Service, but the location had to be agreed upon by federal, state, and local governing bodies. They could not be taken by condemnation, but had to come from a willing seller. This was the act that would allow for the eventual creation of the Allegheny National Forest.

Ninety-three years ago today, on June 7, 1924 the Clark-McNary Act was signed into law by President Coolidge. The federal law allowed the Secretary of Agriculture to cooperate with states for forest fire protection and prevention. It was the beginning of the cooperative arrangements between the states and federal government to share resources. In addition the act strengthened the Weeks Act passed in 1911 to allow the federal government to acquire any lands capable of producing forest products, rather than just headwaters of navigable rivers. This greatly expanded the role of the U.S. Forest Service in the East.

Two years later one of the worst fires to ever strike the ANF would happen at a place called Owls Nest.


Springtime and South Mountain

South Mountain on the Cumberland – Adams – Franklin County lines has been the scene of many Pennsylvania wildfires.  April 16, 2017 saw yet another fire.

One hundred one years ago today one of the most devastating fires to hit the area was experienced.

April 20, 1915 saw another serious fire on South Mountain in Cumberland County. The fire was believed to be intentionally set, and began on the mountain near Huntsdale. Driven by high winds the fire fed on the dry fuels and rapidly spread through the forest. The fire burned to what is now Pine Grove Furnace State Park, causing thousands of dollars’ damage to summer cottages, farm buildings, ice houses and timber.

The large ice house owned by the United Ice and Coal Company, of Harrisburg, located at Laurel Dam contained 17,000 tons of ice. The building was burned away and the ice exposed. Efforts were made to save part of the ice by shipping it away in cars.  Three box cars were burned on the siding at the ice house. 

A camping party, that was composed of men from Carlisle, was compelled to fight the fire when flames when the fire surrounded their cottage. The members of the party were Postmaster Fisk Goodyear, E. S. Krononberg. M. Blumenthal, Norton Goodyear, Harry McCartney, W. H. Goodyear and I. C. Greenwood, of Carlisle, and George C. Boose, of Philadelphia, and Milton I. Hezberg, of Brooklyn. They had been camping in the mountains at the cottage owned by Mr. McCartney. 

The high wind caused the flames to spread through the woods and in several instances the fire fighters were cut off and had difficulty in getting away. Two men, named Bowman and Sowers, who lived in the area, were severely burned when the fire cut off their retreat and they were compelled to run through the flames. 

Several homes and summer cottages were burned. As the fire burned over the mountain the summer home of David Cameron, now Kings Gap Environmental Center, was endangered but the fire turned away from the estate.  The Mans family took refuge from the fire next to the lake and they were forced to drench themselves with water to survive. They escaped the conflagration with only minor burns. 

Hearing of the devastation Dr. G. G. Irwin and George B. Rickabaugh, both of Mount Hollys Springs began to head toward the fire to lend their assistance. Their automobile skidded and overturned on Hunters Run Road. Rickabaugh was pinned in the car for a time and suffered a broken leg. Irwin was thrown from the car and suffered severe cuts and bruises.

The area had been burned over in previous years, and it is almost certain that trees that died or had been injured by the earlier burns remained, providing fuel for the fires that ensued in 1915. The fire was reported to have covered 20,000 acres of state forest reserve and at least 5,000 acres of private land. The villages of Hunters Run and Toland narrowly escaped destruction as did the Holly In and houses on Hill Street in Mount Holly Springs. 

The fires were so destructive and threatening that the Wild Life League of Pennsylvania sent a request to Governor Brumbaugh to use “all available resources at the State’s command.” The letter to Governor Brumbaugh said in part: “In almost all the mountain counties and particularly along the rights of way of the various railroads of the State vast areas are being burned over, the small fire-fighting force of the Forestry Department being utterly in adequate to cope with the emergency in an effective way.” They asked the governor to assign the entire force of state police, fish and game protectors and the National Guard to firefighting duty.

The Harrisburg Telegraph, of April 22, 1915, in addition noted details about Governor Brumbaugh seeking help to quell the fires. The Governor was quoted as saying:

“I shall issue a proclamation asking citizens to go to the forests and the men in charge of fighting the fires that are doing so much damage. I have already given instructions for all game and fish wardens to co-operate with the men of the Forestry Department and took pleasure today in approving the Milliron bill, which requires game, fish and forestry wardens to enforce laws pertaining to any of those lines. I regard this as the first step in the conservation department plan which I outlined. That contemplated consolidating the departmental forces. Under existing laws I have authority to detail state police on emergency service and Major Groome will send his men to help fight fires.”

On the evening of April 22, 1915 rain began to fall throughout the state and it was especially helpful in the Cumberland Valley and South Mountain, eventually allowing firefighters to gain control of the fire and extinguish it.

Seventy-five years ago on April 16, 1942 a fire roared through the same area as this past Sunday’s fire.

On April 16, 1942, a large fire, incendiary in origin, broke out “at possibly 20 points almost simultaneously,” on South Mountain in Cumberland County. The fire rapidly covered 1000 acres near Big Flat.  The fire complex burned over 2000 acres. Students from Dickinson College, Army troops from the Carlisle Barracks, and students at Mont Alto were used to fight the blazes. The fire crowned at several places and was fed by a strong wind. The fires burned in the vicinity of Big Flat, Tumbling Run, Pigeon Roost, Gray Ridge and Dead Womans Hollow. At one point the hamlet of Wenksville was in danger.

South Mountain can be a challenge.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore Late Season Geese

Ok, maybe it might have been a better option to sit in a small chilly room surrounded by feathers, tinsel, thread and hooks, and tie flies. But hunting geese on Maryland’s Eastern Shore seemed to me to be the place to be.  And so last Thursday evening my buddy Cronk and I headed down to Chestertown. We left later than we would have liked because of other commitments, but traveling after 9:00 PM around Baltimore and Annapolis does have one thing going for it. There was hardly any traffic.

We got to our motel around midnight and immediately turned in. It seemed like our heads barely hit the pillows before the alarm was going off at 5. The Holiday Inn Express had a “hunters’ breakfast” which was mostly just bagels, cereals and assorted pastries but they did have juice and coffee and we were ready to go. Before going to breakfast I questioned if I should go down in camo. After all, my shirt was a different pattern than my pants and socks. I didn’t want to look like a Hooftie. I had no reason to worry. The breakfast area was crowded with people in camo. A person not in camo was the one who looked out of place.

It was dark in the parking lot as we assembled our gear. Suddenly, moments before our guide arrived, the sky was filled with the chorus of thousands of honking Canadas taking flight. We took that as a good sign. When Johnny showed up we told him about the geese. He was not so excited. He said the geese flying early meant they would not necessarily be flying all day. Oh well.

Full body decoys, some made out of used tires were the first spread we hunted over.

We drove to a field near Galena where we parked the truck. The guide we were to hunt with was out setting up the decoys. As we waited for his return we could hear some birds in the distance. We remained hopeful. When we got to the pit blind frost covered the ground. It was another bad sign. Geese apparently don’t like frosty fields. We got in the blind and waited.

The blinds are about five feet deep with benches and a partial roof. The remainder of the opening is covered with grass and burlap

If one is given to claustrophobia or served in a previous life as a World War I infantryman, a pit blind is not for you. They are a bit cramped, smell like dirt and your view is confined to about twenty degrees of sky – if that – with the top pulled over.  Two hunters, a guide and his Labrador retriever pretty much fill the place up.

A couple of singles came over and Cronk bagged one. I did get to find out that my shotgun does indeed work but those directly overhead shots are still the most difficult for me to manage.

The temperature warmed and the frost evaporated. Snow geese came over – too high to shoot at and not interested in our Canada dekes – and we saw and heard Canadas piling into “safe fields” more than a half mile away. It is important to note here that Maryland has very strict trespassing laws so any thought of going over there and kicking them up was dashed. Then it began to rain. It was a fine rain, the kind that will soak you through because you think it isn’t raining that hard and then suddenly –You’re wet!

Guide Mike Frey with his dog Trigger after the lab retrieved one of my birds.

At noon we changed blinds and went to another field about a mile away. Again we could see geese flying but they were dropping in on another “safe field”. A few did manage to come over our blind and with some luck I managed to limit out. We gave it up about two; wet, tired and hungry.

On our guide’s suggestion we took the birds to Alexander’s Processing, located north of Galena. Shirley met us at the door and quickly breasted out the birds. I think she can do three birds in the time it would take me to do half a bird. But then again she told us she has 53 years of experience.

The area around Chestertown is the epitome of the Eastern Shore. The area pretty much seems to depend on a great deal of its income coming from the Chesapeake Bay. Businesses of all sorts from marinas, to guide services to restaurants and hotels depend on people coming to the bay. January is not the height of tourist season though, and the first two highly recommended restaurants we tried for dinner were closed. We finally found Ford’s in Rock Hall. It’s a stainless steel and Formica kind of place but the food was excellent and the prices are very reasonable.

Cronk with his goose on Saturday in the fog.

Saturday morning again found us in the parking lot in the dark waiting for our guide. We hunted a different area where the day before birds had piled into the dekes at first light. That morning it was foggy. Though we could hear birds on the Chester River, when they flew it wasn’t toward us. A group of six came in from the back side and Cronk took one that promptly fell and destroyed a cardboard silhouette decoy. It was the gander’s last act of revenge. Other than some ducks that came out of the fog in an instant and were gone before we could get the guns up, that was the excitement.

Other commitments required us to hunt only until noon. I don’t think we missed much as the thick fog hung around all day and most of the way home.

But it was a good hunt. We had fun. We got some birds, and met some interesting people. It was certainly different than sitting in a small room surrounded by feathers and tinsel and hooks.

We booked with B & J Guide Service out of Chestertown, Maryland. This was my second hunt with them and I would highly recommend them.

Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp


Oldest and Original Trout Unlimited Camp

Changes to the Library

A while ago I was working on another project and I needed to find a reference to a specific insect.  I wandered over to my bookshelf and removed the volume I thought would help me the most, Al Caucci’s and Bob Nastasi’s Hatches. My dog-eared much used copy is the first printing published in 1975.  I found the reference to the insect I was looking for but then realized that its name had been changed by the organization that does such things.  While the morphology of the insect, the life history, hatching times and imitations are still quite valid it was the name of the bug that was outdated.  Hatches and Swisher and Richards, Selective Trout (Crown, 1971) also occupies a dominant place in my library, but now they must be replaced by updated versions to accommodate current needs.

As planning began  for the 22nd edition of the Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp I noticed the similarities between the bookshelf and the camp.  As new information becomes available and issues related to coldwater conservation change, like the bookshelf, the camp curriculum must change, but the overall message of coldwater conservation remains the same for the camp.

In 1995 when Dr. Jack Beck and Inky Moore took me into the circle for planning and running the camp I must admit my bookshelf wasn’t what it is now.  I had collected several volumes on the topics of fly fishing, fly tying, natural history, hunting and some books that were just fun to read.  Ed Zern and Patrick McManus occupied shelf space with Schwiebert, Flick and Brooks.  Works by James A. Michener and Zane Gray were next to field guides for fish, insects and wildflowers.  As the years passed several new tomes were added and due to space considerations some were relegated to the bookshelves in the basement.  But the old standards remained.

It is like that with the Rivers Conservation Camp.  We – read that mostly Jack and Inky – began planning without knowing that we didn’t know enough to know we didn’t know enough.  I was delegated the task of developing a curriculum (with Inky’s and Jack’s approval of course) and finding the instructors who could fill those slots.  When you have enthusiastic leadership you feel like nothing is impossible, and our leaders were enthusiastic.  The original curriculum was planned to drive home the importance of cold water conservation and today that curriculum needs to still be relevant to the topic.

In a few short years the curriculum like my bookshelf, would change.  Following the first camp it was decided to go to 40 students and five days.  The camp’s  “bookshelf” would grow to meet the proportional change in time and the 40 student roster was abandoned after only one year.  New “volumes” were added to the camp in the following years including Rod Cross, Catharine Tucker, Leon Chandler and Dr. Robert Behnke.  But other volumes of the camp were removed.  Jack passed away following the 1997 camp and Inky died in the fall of 2000.

Much like the next of kin trying to decide what to do with the deceased’s library the camp was in a state of turmoil.  Should the camp be continued and the library maintained or should it be sold off part and parcel to people who would pick through it looking to fill gaps in their library at bargain prices.  Fortunately, Dick Darr took the helm and led the camp through those dark days.  Looking back I don’t know that we realized how bleak those times were and that we were on the knife edge of extinction.  But the camp survived.

The camps began to flourish and grow, first in Michigan and now in more than twenty camps across the country.  Greg Ponte from Maine, Betsy Craig from North Carolina and others visited the camp for a week learning how the Pennsylvania Camp worked and how they could begin one in their respective states.  Two conferences were held at Allenberry Resort, site of the Pennsylvania camp and a truly national effort began to take root.  The Pennsylvania bookshelf  had become a lending library.

Through time the library must change.  New information becomes available and other information, once thought static and as solid as a piece of granite, becomes dated and falls out of favor with the scientific and/or fishing community.  And so it is with the Rivers Conservation Camps.  People tire of volunteering.  Others retire and move away or voluntarily pass the torch to a new generation. The books and the spaces on the shelves must be continually adjusted.

I couldn’t begin to quantify the changes I have had to make as Director of Curriculum in terms of classes and instructors.  Some classes were abandoned as not fitting the overall model of what the message was supposed to be.  In other words, they no longer fit in the bookcase.  Other classes had new instructors or using the analogy, new books replaced the older volumes.  Other classes were de-emphasized or moved to a less prominent shelf.  But like a library the camps must continue to adjust the books on their shelves.  My strategy was to seek out instructors younger than myself when a need arises for replacement.  Like a book I will carefully and thoroughly read the class syllabus and watch the presentation.

Often change was accomplished with the help of others familiar with the topic and questioning the students themselves. If the presentation fell short I would try to work with the instructor to make sure the class fit into the bookshelf.  I have found that while I respect the classics there isn’t a lot of room on the shelf unless there is a specific need.  I taught “Principles of Ecology” for eighteen years but as I look at the bookshelves I find the need for an update.

Like a library, the camps must continue to grow and be willing to change to remain relevant to the students.  Of course, standards must be maintained.  When the camp started didymo and rusty crayfish were not on the radar.  If you mentioned Marcellus Shale most people thought you were referring to a linebacker recruit to Penn State.  Now those terms are widely used at the camps and the curriculum has changed in ways not envisioned by the founders.

Keep the volumes on the bookshelves that remain relevant.  Just because a volume is old is no reason to discard it.  But be amenable to updating the field guides, identification keys and references to provide you with the latest information. So too, the camps’ curriculum must be relevant to the current science and situations.  Like a library has changed over the years so too must the curriculum evolve.

This year the camp will not be at Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. Due to a change in ownership and a massive reconstruction effort at the resort, the camp is moving to Messiah College, located about ten miles downstream on the Yellow Breeches Creek.

The new venue will have all the facilities to run an operation of this type. There are classrooms, laboratories, dormitories and food service. There is also fishing as The Breeches flows through the campus. The curriculum is being finalized and modified to fit the space and time constraints. New instructors and staff are coming aboard. The duties of Chair of Curriculum have been handed over. It is an exciting time in this chapter of conservation education.

For more information on the 2017 Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp and to apply online please visit the camp’s website at

For more information about Messiah College please visit the college’s website at


An Interesting Hunting Season In Pennsylvania

It has been an interesting hunting season in Pennsylvania for me. While I do not have to go to great expense to replenish my ammunition supply I had a lot of fun and it certainly did prove interesting.  This summer I began to notice that my right eye seemed a little out of focus. “New glasses,” I thought, “I have to get new glasses.” Nothing unusual there. It has happened every year or two for the past sixty years. Yeah, you read that right. I cannot ever remember not wearing glasses.  So I troop off to the local optometrist to get my head….uh… eyes examined. What she told me blew me away. I had cataracts in both eyes, the right eye being the worst. So it was off to see the ophthalmologist/surgeon.  I had a really interesting discussion with the young lady who was the first of many technicians I saw. She asked when I first noticed the problem. I told her that the year before when I looked through a rifle scope for too long things would get blurry. She asked if my right eye was dominant. I told her no, but that was the way I learned to shoot. She tested me for eye dominance and told me I should be shooting left handed. I told her shooting was one of the only things that I am ambidextrous at doing. We had a further discussion about shooting and other things and then I was hustled off to other technicians and the surgeon.  Long story short, I had the surgery in September, the right eye first and the left eye a week later. Then I heard Dr. Wagner tell me something I never expected to hear in this lifetime. My distance vision in both eyes is 20/20.  

So I head out to the rifle range. No blurriness in the scope and for the first time in ages I can see open sights. Bifocals were the reason I could not see open sights for the past decade and a half. I was elated. Dr. Wagner, you and your associates at Stoken Wagner Opthalmic Associates did a great job! 

So I headed into the woods as the season began to unfold. My first foray was for ducks and geese and, well the birds didn’t exactly cooperate, but it was fun. 

A couple of weeks later found me in the Big Woods of northcentral Pennsylvania searching for turkey. It wasn’t a great year for turkeys and the few hunters I talked with said numbers were down. The acorn crop in the area was one of the best I had ever seen. And I began to see deer, including a couple of racked bucks. 

Then came bear season. I saw a wallhanger of a buck below camp, and another larger buck across the mountain. I was excited. I was seeing big bucks and I could see them well. Things were looking up….well into the woods. 

Buck season arrived with the usual excitement. Even after more than 50 “first days” there is still something special about that first morning. We left the camp before daylight full of excitement and hope. The woods were quiet and it was 7:30 before I heard the first shot…..anywhere. You wouldn’t have known the season was on. It remained quiet throughout the day. There wasn’t much shooting and none that would be considered close to either of us.  

The second morning of the season rain began shortly after first light. It had rained off and on through the night but as daylight approached it began to rain steadily. There was a time when I would have put on my rain gear and went out in it all day long. Not anymore. My buddies had to leave that morning and so I helped them pack and get going. A shot rang out across the mountain, probably more than a mile away. I didn’t think much about it at the time. After the guys left I decided to go to town and call home. If I had Verizon I could have gone to the top of the hill and called, but AT&T still thinks all people live and only make calls in the cities. Well, I wouldn’t call Renovo a city but I can get cellphone service there.  So off I go. 

I got to the bottom of the mountain just as a hunter dragged a massive buck to the side of the road. I stopped and admired the buck. He might have been the one I saw in bear season, but maybe not. The hunter was local and said he had some friends hunting in the area and sooner or later one of them would drive by and help him get it to his truck. I wished him well and headed to town to call.

I returned about an hour later. The hunter was still sitting by the road. I asked where his truck was and he told me on top of the mountain, parked on an access road. I said I could get him to the access road but I hadn’t been up the road in a while and I wasn’t sure I could get up it, with the slippery leaves, ruts and all. He said getting to the access road would be good enough. The two of us loaded the deer into the Jeep and up the mountain we went. As we drove up the mountain, the hunter told me this was not the buck he was looking for. He said he had seen a larger one the day before but couldn’t get a shot at it. Interesting. 

I waited along the road while he retrieved his truck. Another local group of guys came by and they stopped to see the buck. It was pretty obvious they were hunting this buck as well. Soon the hunter returned and we struggled to load the buck into his truck. In my hunting career I have handled a lot of deer but this was definitely one of if not the largest. The eight point weighed 200 pounds field dressed if it weighed an ounce. Getting it into the back of the Cherokee wasn’t that difficult but getting him onto the bed of his truck required some effort. It was a monster of a deer. After the deer was loaded he wished me well and was on his way. I felt good about being able to help a lucky hunter.

I hunted some that afternoon and the next day. The rain persisted. It was quiet walking in the woods but it was to no avail. Talking with the guys in the other camps, nobody had fired had fired a shot. Collectively we maybe saw altogether 20 deer. We know of only one other deer, a small eight point that had been taken in the area. Thursday morning in the cold drizzle I closed the camp and headed home. 

The rest of the week and the first few days of the second week of deer season were taken up with various tasks of domestic , birthdays and Yuletide importance. My friend and his son and I agreed early in July to get antlerless tags and hunt Indiana County at the end of the second week. I planned to go out Thursday. That morning while walking down my smooth level driveway to get the newspaper I twisted my knee. It hurt and I hobbled a bit, but it was deer season and I was determined. Off I went. 

That afternoon I arrived at the State Game Lands and hunted myself, as the other two were otherwise occupied. It was quiet and I hunted an old Christmas tree plantation. I saw sign but no deer. I moved across the road and saw less sign but I heard some shooting back where I had been. 

The next morning the three of us headed back to the SGL. We hunted one area where we had some past success but it proved fruitless. Then we moved back to the old plantation. Some light snow had fallen during the night and I saw where I moved some deer. 

As I was waiting for my friend to come through on the second push two does came out of the brush. Ol’ Brother Blue Steel spoke and my antlerless tag was filled. 

After lunch we decided to hunt another section where we had seen deer in years gone by. I hiked up the road about three quarters of a mile, to where I would start the push, while my friends got in position.  Remember my knee? Level and easy walking? Well the knee was starting to hurt again. I was determined though to make the push and find some deer. 

When I got to my starting point I was surprised to find two women waiting for three guys to push the opposite direction to them; the direction I intended to go. It happens on public land. I learned a long time ago to not get bothered by things like that. I said I could wait. In a few minutes the drivers came through. They said they moved nothing. 

I decided to push through the lower edge of the field. Somehow, once I got into the field of waist high goldenrod with an occasional pine tree, my knee stopped hurting. I began a methodical push through the field, slow and easy. One never knows where deer will lay up. As I approached a slight hump in the ground I looked ahead. “That branch looks like an antler,” I said to myself. I took another step. It was an antler, still attached to a deer!  I was startled by the sudden appearance of the deer. It was obviously dead. I kicked it and it was stiff. I felt it and it was cold. But no snow lay on it and no scavengers had gotten to it. I surmised it died the day before. As I was standing there looking at the recently deceased, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. Two does jumped out of the goldenrod twenty yards away and bounced down across the field and across the road. I took the photo you see here of the magnificent nine point.

 I don’t know the story of how the deer came to be there. I was in the middle of a large, relatively open field a hundred or so yards from the road. I didn’t move the deer to see where it had been shot. My guess is somebody took a poor shot and when the deer didn’t fall they assumed they missed it. Why they didn’t follow up their shot mystifies me, and really pisses me off! If the buck had been found on private posted land one could easily make the assumption that whoever shot it gave it up when it crossed into the posted land. That is not the case here. The deer was in the center of a large chunk of SGL. The scenario that keeps playing in my mind is that a “hunter” who had not been in the woods since last deer season, saw the buck, possibly running, and took a wild shot when the deer came into the crosshairs. When it didn’t immediately fall he assumed he missed. He either did not follow up or does not possess the skills, stamina, determination and ethics to make a successful find. The slob who left the deer go will probably be one of the first to buy a semi-automatic should they be allowed for deer. (I hope not!) 

I followed on through the field and no other deer were seen. A group of guys was by their truck when I finished and I asked them if they had been hunting in the area during the past couple of days. They said they had not. I showed them the photo. One of the older “hunters” said I should go cut the antlers off of the deer. Why would I – or anyone – want the antlers from a buck I didn’t tag? That idiot’s logic escapes me. Yeah I could hang them on the wall and have them piss me off every time I looked at them. I need a set of antlers I did not collect like I need a toothache! I had to walk away. 

The next day found us pushing out the old Christmas tree plantation again. On the way to my starting point I met a hunter who told me he had hunted in the area for the past 40 years. He had taken a buck on the first day of archery. Now they were looking for a 6, 7 and 9 point they thought were still around. I showed him the photo. He didn’t say it but I could tell by his expression the buck in the field was the nine point they were still looking for. 

Later in the day as we made the last push, Jason was on stand when he spotted brown lying beneath a bush below him. When I got to him he pointed out the deer. It was a doe, shot a day or two before. The coyotes and crows hadn’t got to her either.  Again this deer was well inside public land and shouldn’t have been that hard to find. 

Is this what hunting on public land in Pennsylvania has become? In more than 50 seasons of hunting I can recall finding only one other buck. That deer had been shot near the end of buck season and the gang looked for it with some diligence. I found it in a stream under a log in doe season.  Until this year I had never seen two in a season. Someone suggested I call the Game Commission. For what? The buck was more than 25 yards off the road; too far for them to walk. Actually they could drive to it, but they would probably stick their 4WD. A few years ago I found a wounded buck that did not have the points required. I called the PGC and then waited for most of the day for them. They showed up the next day while I was away, and gave my buddies grief because I wasn’t there. Calling them would be about as helpful as teats on a boar.   

So it has been an interesting deer season. Venison is in the freezer. The rifle and all the gear is cleaned and stored. Geese on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are next up…..or hopefully down.