Recreating Pennsylvania’s Past Along the Lehigh River

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

Whether you prefer biking or kayaking, there are lots of great places for recreation on mid-Atlantic waterways.

by Virginia Thompson

On a beautiful mid-July day, my husband and I biked the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail along the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Gorge State Park. Donning our helmets and supplied with, food and drinking water, we started at White Haven and traveled downstream through the Pocono Mountains to Jim Thorpe, PA – following the same ground as the “Iron Horse” that pulled logs and coal for fueling America’s industrial growth.

Along the way, we saw remnants of the canals and locks dating back to the nineteenth century that helped move goods to large urban areas, such as Philadelphia. While the area was mostly known for lumbering and coal, it was also widely recognized for its scenic beauty. Wildlife was so abundant in this area that John Audubon visited Jim Thorpe in 1829 to sketch.

Biking along, I imagined what scenery folks riding the rails might have seen in those days. Just then, I saw several railroad tracks tucked between a wall of rock of Mount Pisgah and the river. Unbeknown to me, one of the tracks was still active and I was startled by a train coming around the bend, demonstrating the power of “rails with trails.”

Though over-logging and catastrophic fires have reduced many of the communities that relied on lumber and shipping to distant memories, the beauty, history and recreational opportunities offered by some of these towns have granted them a kind of twenty-first century rebirth.

For example, the economy of Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk (“sleeping bear” to the Leni Lenape Indians, who resided there), is now based largely on its water-oriented recreational resources. In addition to bicycling like we did, white-water rafting down the Lehigh River is also a popular option.

But, while we’ve seen significant improvement in the quality of our rivers and streams in the four-plus decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many of our waterways remain impaired by pollution. Whether you are white-water rafting, kayaking, or enjoying our rivers and streams in other ways, there are resources to help you find out about water quality in the area you plan to visit.

You can check the lists of impaired waters prepared by your state, or put technology to use by downloading apps that tell you what, if any impairments, impact a particular body of water.

Do you check on water quality before you head out for water-related recreation? Let us know what tools you find most useful!


About the author: Virginia Thompson hails from northeastern Pennsylvania and is the EPA Region 3 Coordinator for the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.




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