The Greenway to Good Fishing

by Linda Steiner

I had the feeling someone was watching me. I looked around, saw nothing, and made another cast into the creek. Then I happened to glance up. There, peering down on me, was the Colonel.


The large fast-food sign loomed over the trees. The eyes looked down on one of the most famous trout streams in southcentral Pennsylvania. The Colonel was taking a break, I guess, from frying chicken, to see how the fishing was. His presence was a reminder of how urbanization is galloping through parts of the state, crowding creeks and squeezing the sport of angling.

The stream I was fishing was the well-known Falling Spring Branch, at Chambersburg, Franklin County. Falling Spring Branch is fabled among anglers for its limestone spring-fed water and its wild trout, particularly streambred rainbows.

Rainbow trout

This wild rainbow trout was caught and released in Falling Spring Branch. Greenways are important to anglers. Greenways can help improve water quality and streamside habitat, and they can help preserve access.
photo-Linda Steiner

Falling Spring Branch is noted not only for the fishing, but for the initiative anglers and others who care about the creek have taken to help protect it, as the city of Chambersburg continues to grow. Interstate 81 crosses Falling Spring Branch on the east side of town, with an exit that drops thousands of motorists onto busy Route 30. Strip malls, including quick-chicken restaurants, are just one symptom of increasing development, in addition to more hotels, houses and businesses. The valley of Falling Spring Branch still has a pleasantly rural look, with centuries-old cut-stone homesteads, red barns and cows. It also has a lot of new residences, as people move into the attractive neighborhood. With the influx, would it be, as elsewhere, there goes the fishing?

The answer at Falling Spring Branch is that the fishing has been preserved, as well as most of the public access. More than 10 years ago, the Falling Spring Greenway, Inc., was organized, including members of the Falling Spring Chapter of Trout Unlimited and other anglers, landowners and persons interested in protecting the creek and its environs. Achievements of the organization and related groups, government agencies, businesses and individuals who have assisted them have been great, and the Falling Spring project remains active.

Today, anglers can fish Falling Spring Branch in two sections designated as special-regulation areas by the Fish & Boat Commission-a 1.1-mile Delayed-Harvest, Artificial-Lures-Only section and, upstream, 2.4 miles in the Heritage Trout Angling program (fly fishing, catch-and-release). Scattered parking areas facilitate access, and signs at several locations map the stream, and provide explanations of the watershed and credit to those who helped the greenway initiative, including the Fish & Boat Commission and some of the cooperating property owners.

Regulation signs

Areas of special regulation, like Falling Spring Branch's 2.4-mile Heritage Trout Angling section, enhance the Falling Spring Greenway's angling experience. photo-Linda Steiner

The angling experience at Falling Spring Branch can never be mistaken for a backwoods wilderness trip. Fishermen are aware of the traffic behind them, though residentially slow, and homes on the fringes, though nicely landscaped. Is what has happened at Falling Spring the way of the future for good streams on the edges of towns or in regions of sprawl development? Such preservation and enhancement doesn't occur by accident-much stream and riparian habitat work has been done at Falling Spring. The organizing leadership at Chambersburg has been provided by the Falling Spring Greenway. Its success is attributed to the group's assertiveness in achieving its goals.

Falling Spring's friends put together a greenway through a variety of means. They helped some of the creek-side property go into public ownership (Fish & Boat Commission); worked with donated easements and new development deed restrictions (proactive zoning in Guilford Township); and cultivated good relationships and agreements with streamside landowners, including enrollment in the Fish & Boat Commission's Adopt-a-Stream program. Dennis LaBare, Director of Development for the Falling Spring Greenway, says their efforts succeeded because the group made connections both horizontally and vertically. They forged close ties with the community, from businesses to service organizations to property owners and anyone interested in a healthy Falling Spring, and with levels of government, private sector businesses and nonprofit organizations that could help with advice and funding. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and grants have gone into Falling Spring Greenway work, with more on the way to help pay for restoration of a widened and silted stream section. Falling Spring is a project many locally have taken to heart, a necessary ingredient for success, says LaBare. If there is a creek-based greenway doing it right, it's at Falling Spring.

A key local government relationship that has remained strong over the years is that with Guilford Township Board of Supervisors Chair, Gregory L. Cook. LaBare says that Cook's political career began with a campaign that included support for the greenway as a campaign platform. Guilford's cooperation has included installing parking areas at key angler accesses, zoning regulation changes based on direct greenway input, and a GIS mapping of the Falling Spring Watershed.

Falling Spring

Fishing along the Falling Spring Greenway is a suburban experience, courtesy of the landowners. photo-Linda Steiner

At the state level, a recent "Growing Greener" grant from the Department of Environmental Protection is providing $51,000 to fund design and permitting of a 4,000-foot reach of channel restoration to pristine condition.

LaBare also cites a longstanding and supportive relationship with the Fish & Boat Commission that continues to be, in his words, "vital."

So what exactly is a greenway and can the concept be used elsewhere, by other anglers, to protect fishing quality and access? A greenway in its simplest form is "a corridor of open space," a definition put forward by the Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership Commission. The Commission also says: "Greenways vary greatly in scale, from narrow ribbons of green that run through urban, suburban and rural areas to wider corridors that incorporate diverse natural, cultural and scenic features."

Right now is a great time for anglers to be involved with greenways or to help initiate a greenway at their favorite fishing areas. Community-based greenways and trail initiatives are booming nationwide, and Pennsylvania is much in the forefront. Why not become part of an established waterside greenway effort, to be sure the creek, its water quality and streamside habitat are considered and that fishing access is preserved?

By the end of 2001, those seeking help getting a greenway started or moving continuing greenway projects along should have a "one-stop-shopping" place for assistance and information, according to Annette Schultz, project manager for the RBA Group, a consulting team helping the Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership Commission produce a statewide greenways plan and program. The Commission was created in 1998 by Governor Tom Ridge, recognizing the importance of greenways and the need for planning a greenways network across the state. The Commission is charged with promoting the development of greenways by assisting the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to "plan, implement, maintain and fund a greenways network for the Commonwealth." The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is among 10 state agencies that are cooperating with the Greenways Partnership Commission, DCNR, PennDOT and DEP.

According to Schultz, "Greenways along waterways are important for conservation, for protecting water quality and for recreation purposes." The Commission will map current greenways and look at the natural corridors along rivers as opportunities for maintaining the types of linear, open-space connections that could become part of the statewide greenways network. The network will be based on "hubs and spokes," she says. The hubs are centers like state parks, towns, historic sites and other attractions, and the spokes are the open-space corridors and trails that connect them. A draft of the plan was created last December, with a final version expected to be approved by the Commission and sent to Governor Ridge this spring. Implementation should begin later in 2001, says Schultz.

"The idea is to develop a 'toolbox' for people, to help them understand the steps and answer some of their questions on developing greenways, so local action can take place and we can strengthen local efforts," says Schultz. Grants and technical assistance for greenways are now available through various agencies, and the plan and program will call for better coordination of these services. "Each agency will make sure its funding stream recognizes greenways, and will coordinate with DCNR, which has been named the lead agency for guiding the greenways network effort," says Schultz.

DCNR's Bureau of Recreation and Conservation has already been restructured to include a Division of Greenways and Conservation Partnerships, according to Larry Williamson, Director. That Division provides technical assistance to nonprofit groups and communities that want to develop regional corridor and "landscape-type" projects, including greenways, says Williamson. "We have the expertise and capability to help get projects started," he says. "We also have grant funds for greenways planning, acquisition and development. We've taken all our Keystone 93 funds, our Growing Greener funds and some federal funds that we receive to do recreational trails and thrown all that into one pot of funding called the Community Conservation Partnerships Program."

Grant application information is on the DCNR website,, or it can be obtained from the Bureau. To get started on a greenway plan, Williamson suggests that groups go to one of the Bureau's regional offices or call the Harrisburg central office at 717-783-2658.

Anglers can get involved individually in greenways at a local level. At the statewide level, angler interests in greenway network planning are handled by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC). The PFBC participates fully in the Greenways Partnership Commission efforts. The individual representing the PFBC is Tom Ford, Aquatic Resources Planning Coordinator.

Ford says the PFBC is involved "not only because the Water Trails Program is part of the greenways movement, but for stream and streamside habitat enhancement and protection, and angler access." A lot of greenways, and potential greenways, are in natural river valleys, says Ford, and as greenway efforts acquire or secure lands, they are protecting and improving habitats. Among the benefits are stream improvement and riparian plantings, acid mine drainage remediation, stream bank fencing and improved angler access.

"We have fully supported the Greenways Partnership Commission efforts, attended meetings and provided input into the greenway plan," says Ford. The PFBC has already worked with DCNR and local organizations interested in developing greenways and water trails, including greenway projects that cross PFBC property.

Trails and greenways provide "wonderful opportunities for anglers," says Ford. He tells of a day he spent on the Youghiogheny River hiking/biking trail. "About 50 percent of the use of the trail I saw that day was anglers, bicycling with fishing rods," he says. The PFBC rarely buys property along greenways, such as the two parcels it owns along Falling Spring Branch, but these are exceptions. The PFBC more often offers stream improvement information and technical assistance to local groups that are working to enhance stream corridors and stream habitat. Greenways along streams focus the attention of the community at large, not just anglers, on a watershed, says Ford, and that's always beneficial.

Falling Spring Trout Unlimited Chapter President Rod Cross says he recommends anglers get involved with greenways. "I feel so lucky to live here and feel strongly about it," says Cross. "At the Falling Spring Greenway, hiking groups, bird watchers, hunters and trappers and fishermen use this narrow strip in perfect harmony. It's a great thing for the community." Cross especially credited Guilford Township's supervisors for taking a strong lead in the greenway effort, planning for smart growth that will preserve the valley's quality of life, including recreation. Williamson also emphasized the importance of greenways to local and regional land-use planning and economic development opportunities, noting that greenways are an important element of the Ridge Administration's Growing Smarter initiative.

On deck yet for the T.U. chapter is encouraging streamside property holders to leave a natural vegetation strip along the creek, perhaps trees or shrubs, or at least not mowing to the edge. This practice will stabilize the banks and provide food and shaded cover for trout. Improving their property and the stream go hand in hand, says Cross, making the living good in the Falling Spring Valley. "The biggest word to the wise is to keep a good relationship with the landowners," says Cross. Speaking from his long experience with the Falling Spring Greenway, LaBare says, "An educated landowner is our best legacy. It's a value-added feature of their property to have a healthy and well-regarded Falling Spring. Just remember that there is no legal instrument that will ever overcome ill will."

Another lesson learned at Falling Spring is to keep the momentum going. After more than 10 years, the greenway effort there hasn't ended. It includes plans to narrow and deepen the Quarry Meadow section, work on riparian wetland and upland restoration, a possible additional acquisition, and cooperating with a local dairy farmer to fence his herd from the stream. At this point, the goals at Falling Spring are 75 percent accomplished, says LaBare.

The streamside greenway project at Falling Spring has become a blueprint, and LaBare and others involved have given largely of their expertise to other groups. With an evolving system of greenways in Pennsylvania and an emerging clearinghouse for help and information, the Falling Spring project may yet be equaled, although its unique combination of natural and human resources can never be exactly copied. Greenways to good fishing is a concept anglers should be reeling in for their own.


Pennsylvania Greenways Plan and Program, Annette L. Schultz, Project Manager, The RBA Group, 4900 Ritter Road, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055-4807.

DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Division of Greenways and Conservation Partnerships, P.O. Box 8767, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8767.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000;

Falling Spring Greenway, Dennis LaBare, Director of Development, 8903 Flagstone Circle, Randallstown, MD 21133.

Falling Spring Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Rod Cross, President, 2670 Falling Spring Road, Chambersburg, PA 17201.

If you are interested in becoming involved in the Commonwealth's greenways efforts, consider joining the Greenways Partnership Advisory Committee. Contact Anna Breinich, PA Environmental Council, 600 North 2nd Street, Suite 300A, Harrisburg, PA 17101.

May/June 2001 Angler & Boater

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