For 500 miles, the mighty Susquehanna River glides peacefully through rolling mountains and sleepy towns, past wildlife and wilderness, beneath cloudless skies and towering bridges of stone and steel.
From Otsego Lake in New York to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, its glistening waters serve as the scenic backdrop for Kipona, Artsfest and the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, offering up the picture-perfect setting for picnics, boating, fishing, jogging and more.
Flowing in two main branches in a loosely drawn “Y,” the river has quietly connected the past to the present, the north to the south, the east to the west and the young to the young-at-heart.
Those connections fuel the mission of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP), says Executive Director Corey Ellison.
“It’s all about connecting people,” said Ellison, an Alabama native who has backpacked and rock-climbed her way through Australia and other must-see points in the great outdoors.
She views the Susquehanna as the ideal natural accessory for recreation, economic development, history, culture and a healthier lifestyle.
“Studies consistently show that people want walkable, bike-able communities,” Ellison noted.
Embracing open space also attracts economic development and an influx of vibrant young people, raising the region’s quality of life and beauty quotient, she said.
Greenways & Blueways
The group’s seeds were planted in the early 2000s, when then-Gov. Tom Ridge challenged the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to examine the potential of the commonwealth’s greenways. From there, a committee of 120-plus members developed the Pennsylvania Greenways Action Plan, and the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership was born.
Its charter was signed on City Island in Harrisburg with representatives from the state, federal, city and county governments on hand, along with local advocacy groups. Funded largely by state funds and foundation grants, SGP underscores the importance of greenways and “blueways,” as the march of development bulldozed over suburbia’s vast open spaces.
The strategic action plan, released in 2006, recommended the formation of a nonprofit. That same year, a board of directors was appointed, and SGP became a 501c(3) organization.
Since then, the partnership has been working to build out the idea of a connected greenway and to preserve and link strips of undeveloped land and the environment.
The planned corridor runs one to three miles on either side of the Susquehanna for the entire 500 miles of the western branch.
Based in Williamsport and Lewisburg, the partnership has concentrated its efforts on the central Susquehanna region, working to translate ideas into trails, parks and river access points.
SGP often uses Dauphin County as a model for greenway development and preservation.
Ellison pointed to the extensive county park system and the Capital Area Greenbelt, lovingly dubbed the “emerald necklace,” as proof of the capital city’s love affair with its greenways.
In and around Harrisburg, SGP often shares information at Greenbelt events and sponsors an annual photo contest.
The competition attracts photographers of all skill levels to the greenway. The images captured will be on display in the Capitol’s East Wing Rotunda through June 30. Picturesque landscapes, charming river towns, and panoramic sunsets are frequently captured on film, along with those iconic bridges of the Susquehanna.
“The greenway is so large and covers such a diverse geography that we are always surprised by the images that come in,” Ellison said.
Ellison pointed out that many people who live along the river may know what’s in their own backyard, but not what’s upstream. And, of course, what begins upstream eventually flows down into the lower Susquehanna.
She acknowledged that the Susquehanna has a “storied past” that includes the good and bad—beauty and transportation, pollution and massive flooding.
In the recent past, swollen riverbanks and dirty waters caused people to move away from the river, both physically and mentally, Ellison said.
“They saw it as a risk instead of a resource,” she said. “It really is an opportunity, whether for recreation or economic development. We try to work with communities and groups to help see the river, not as a risk but as a resource.”
SGP offers a volunteer ambassador program for those who share the group’s passion. To grow the greenway, these ambassadors attend outreach events, talk to visitors, spread the vision and mission of greenways and identify access to trails.
Every year, the group also hosts a paddling event. This year, the Susquehanna Island Hopper event will allow paddlers to drift from outside Selinsgrove to the Mahantango Creek Fish and Boat Commission on Aug. 3. Early bird tickets are available.
Because last year’s pounding rains led to high river levels that forced the event’s cancellation, the partnership has formulated a backup plan. If the river is too high or too low, “hoppers” will go to a local lake and hike, but the trip is on—rain or shine.
The sojourn is suitable for all levels of paddlers, from beginners to experts and from teens to retirees. It is fully guided, complete with safety boats and naturalists who give “as-you-go” learning opportunities, pointing out wildlife and natural areas in a floating classroom.
Representatives of Selinsgrove will talk about its history as a river community.
SGP also offers day trips that can be found on its website.
Whether you paddle, picnic, picture-take or promote, you should know about this group and its resources. And its members invite you to visit their website, reach out and connect with them.
To learn more about the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, visit www.susquehannagreenway.org.