Culm to go, trees added at Weiser: Projects at state forest will improve scarred land
NATALIE — Earth Day will have a new meaning this year at the Roaring Creek Tract of the Weiser State Forest as two projects to rehabilitate areas of past mining get underway.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has hired Jeff Molesevich, of Atlas Anthracite Coal, to remove a massive culm bank along Route 54, just north of Natalie, to improve public access to the forest. In a separate project, DCNR has partnered with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) to plant 3,500 seedlings on reclaimed strip-mine land in Columbia County, between Natalie and Aristes.
The culm bank project includes removing an estimated 400,000 to 1.4 million tons of culm and rock, then creating a trailhead with a 20-vehicle parking lot and related facilities. The total project area is 11.88 acres.
A new administrative road .88-miles in length will also be constructed to connect with several trails, including Black Road Trail that runs along the ridge line toward Aristes. Currently, the trail’s entrance along Route 54 south of Natalie is not open to the public.
Tim Ladner, district forester, said removal of the culm could take several years, but there is no way of knowing how long exactly. The contract with Atlas Anthracite Coal is for five years. Logging of the area has started and is expected to last two to four weeks, which will be followed by the removal work.
“The bank has been there for many, many years. If you look (at maps) from 1939, it is on there," he said. "Removal of the bank will be interesting."
On April 22, dozens of volunteers will plant aspen, shrub oak, pitch pine and table mountain pine trees on roughly five acres of land near Black Road Trail.
PEC, which facilitates partnerships of governments, agencies and nonprofits to implement trail systems and projects, used funding from private sources to pay a contractor to rip the ground to increase water infiltration and tree root expansion, according to Patrick Starr, executive vice president of PEC.
“Sites that had been previously mined have been sitting for years without trees having taken root because when (the ground) was graded the soils were so terribly compacted. Tree roots really have a tough time getting into the soil, which is nearly impervious to rainfall,” he said. “It is a very common condition in Northumberland County and the surrounding region.”
PEC has also led the effort to recruit volunteers to plant the small trees. Boy Scouts, the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance, AQUA America, Ruffed Grouse Society, Susquehanna University chapter of Alpha Psi Omega and football players from Bucknell University are expected to be among the 40 or so volunteers to roll up their sleeves.
In addition to improving the area’s water quality and restoring lost forest habitat, the tree plantings will benefit many species of animals, such as ruffed grouse, prairie warbler, chestnut-sided warbler and eastern cottontail, Starr said.
In 2016, PEC and DCNR also led a an operation to plant thousands of trees on a four-acre site about a mile away from this year’s project. More than a dozen people planted some 1,500 seedlings in one day.
“We wanted to plant trees where we knew they would be taken care of,” he said. “What better place to do this than a state forest.”
For more information about the tree planting event visit http://pecpa.org/event/weiser.