The town of
Jersey Shore is screened from the river by a maze of islands through which we
came one afternoon. We ended up in the middle of the largest group of people we
were to meet on the river, 20 students splashing about with nets. They were
members of a freshwater ecology class organized four years ago by William
Graff, a biology teacher at the Jersey Shore Area High School. At that moment
Graff was hip deep in the West Branch encouraging his students as they measured
current velocity, took samples of water and soil for laboratory testing and
collected aquatic plants and animals. He says he has been very pleased with the
elective course his students are enrolled in; he feels it has better acquainted
them and their parents with the river that flows past their community.
Deb Waltz, a
junior, had become thoroughly soaked dragging a net through the shallows.
"I am collecting organisms," she explained.
organisms I can catch."
Waltz said that
eventually she would like to be either a jockey or a veterinarian, but in the
meantime freshwater ecology has been her best class. "I like anything
alive, and I've found out about all sorts of things living in the river that I
didn't know about," she said.
Each year, said
Graff, his students are finding that the river has become more wholesome, less
polluted and less acid. In consequence, life forms are more numerous and
varied. Recently, for the first time in decades, trout rejoined the community
of organisms in this stretch of the West Branch.
mid-19th century, Williams-port has been the West Branch metropolis. It is now
a city of 38,000. For a time after the Civil War it was the logging capital not
only of the Susquehanna but of the nation.
has turned to other industry and because of repeated flooding it has more or
less turned its back on the river. Only marginal enterprises are still located
directly on the river. These and the rest of the city are separated from it by
high flood walls and levees. From canoe level, the effect is similar to running
between canyon walls. It is hard to see much of Williamsport or get into it.
Fortunately, we had only one bit of business to transact in the city—filling
our water jugs. By and by we came to one of the less precipitous embankments,
climbed it, crossed a railbed and descended through the green briers into the
backyard of an elderly South Williamsport resident who was watering his garden.
When we explained ourselves, he was very cooperative and enthusiastic.
"Mother, Mother," he called to his wife. "Come out here. Here's a
fellow and his daughter who have paddled a canoe all the way from above
Clearfield. They're going to use our water."
"Clearfield," said the lady after she had come out of the house and
heard the story for herself. "When we were in Florida we met a lovely
couple from Clearfield. Their name was Hadley, or maybe Halsey. Do you know
live around Gettysburg." I said. "We just passed through Clearfield and
didn't have a chance to talk to many people."