Bodies of Water Help Define Central Pa. Economy, Lifestyle

There’s something about water that draws people to it. Whether the benefits are emotional or economical, there’s no denying the appeal of rivers, lakes and streams — three features that make Central Pennsylvania an attractive place to live, work or visit.

The Susquehanna River is the most prominent water feature in the region. At 444 miles long, starting in Cooperstown, New York, and running into the Chesapeake Bay, it is the longest river on the East Coast and the longest non-commercially navigable one in the United States. The river provides links to the area’s Native American history, as well as a wealth of recreational activities.

Susquehanna Heritage, a nonprofit organization that focuses on connecting people to the part of the river that flows through York and Lancaster counties, has worked with the state government for 14 years to create water trails and river access points, and to educate residents and visitors alike about the river’s environment and history.

“We have rediscovered waterfronts as places we want to be, for economic development and recreation,” said Mark Platts, president of Susquehanna Heritage.

Years ago, the Susquehanna was used mostly by fisherman and local residents on powerboats. Now, more people are paddling the river, as well as tributaries such as the Codorus and Little Conestoga creeks, in kayaks and canoes, or spending time hiking, biking and visiting the towns along the way.

“Parks and trails along the river, where you can go to learn about history or enjoy locally-grown foods, can be a renewed economic generator for the region,” Platts said.

Lake Clarke Marina sells new and used power boats, while Long Level Marina appeals to visitors looking to rent pontoon boats. Outfitters along the river in York, Dauphin and Perry counties rent or sell canoes and kayaks and provide tour services or paddling programs.

Susquehanna Heritage has also been able to expand its educational efforts, running two visitor centers that offer a variety of programs. The visitor center recently partnered with the National Park Service to tell the tale of American Indians who connected with Captain John Smith in the Chesapeake Bay and hosted more than 400 local school children this year.

In Harrisburg, City Island and Riverfront Park highlight waterfront recreation, while the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat drew close to 50,000 guests — locals and tourists alike — last year. The riverboat runs regular sightseeing cruises from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as educational voyages and dinner cruises.

“We are one of the largest draws in the area outside of Hersheypark and the State Capitol,” said Tom Farr, operations director for the Pride.

He said being on a boat and experiencing a place from the water appeals to people. “We get tired of being on land,” Farr said. “It’s nice to get our sea legs and get out in nature and breathe the fresh air as you watch the landscape go by.”

Lakes and streams in the many state parks throughout the region are also popular places for visitors and local residents to fish, paddle, swim or relax with friends or family.

The region also features cold water streams that make for good fishing, drawing anglers in search of brook, rainbow and brown trout. Fishing for catfish and small-mouthed bass in the river continues to be popular and supports businesses such as Susquehanna Fish & Tackle in Columbia in Lancaster County.

Joy McMaster, president of the Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Lancaster County, said Lititz Run and Conowingo Creek are popular fishing spots, as well as Fishing Creek in the southwestern part of the county, where brown trout reproduce. In Cumberland County, the Yellow Breeches is popular with fly fisherman.

“A lot of people come to our area to fish, and that helps our economy,” McMaster said. “Not only do they purchase fishing licenses and equipment, but they dine here and use local lodging or guide services.”

She said the organization works to preserve and improve the quality of water in the streams, and that is important even for those who don’t fish.

“Even just being able to walk by a stream, look for flowers and watch the birds or get some exercise — the whole nature thing and getting outdoors is important,” McMaster said. “People here in this area can do that close to home.”

Copyright 2017, Central Penn Business Journal, Reprinted with Permission

Jennifer Vogelsong

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