Nothing ever became of H.D. Thoreau’s suggestion that every town or large watershed in the country preserve a piece of wild nature, especially near our population centers. A designated wild place, whether it be something as simple as a city or county park or as complicated as the preservation of a wilderness, could allow for the survival of plants and animals and aid our own species in the maintenance of a healthy relationshop to the wild. We never gave naturalists like Thoreau or John Muir much regard when it came to the subject of preserving special locales near home.
My local watershed, the upper Genesee River, isn’t particularly noted for its wild condition. Agriculture, resource abstraction and small businesses have taken most of what was wild in the borderlands between New York and Pennsylvania. However, a couple of relatively wild remnants do remain in the upper Genesee country. The wildest of these remnants is about three square miles in size. It’s a place that’s heavily forested and is drained by an excellent native trout stream, one of the healthiest tributaries in the upper 40 miles of Genesee River. You’ll forgive me, please, if I’m not too exact about its actual location.
The only “road” through this fine valley is a Jeep trail that connects big chunks of private property, mostly owned by out-of-area hunters. Headwater streams like this one wouldn’t do well with a lot of fishing pressure. One reason I recently hiked the valley rather than fished it is because the fishing season is closed in March. Another reason for the hike is that I wanted insight to the valley as soon as possible. Lumbering had started over the winter weeks and I hoped it wasn’t a prelude to horizontal drilling for gas into the Marcellus Shale. Several pipelines have already crossed through the valley, one across the middle section and two others across the headwaters near the summit of the hill. Chew me out if you’d like to, but here’s my take on the fracking business: the industry produces a major impact on the headwaters region, or in any type of rural community. Unless someone is suffering or in pain and could actually benefit by the hydro-fracking of shale, I say earth comes first every time.
In February 2012, federal scientists warned New York (still deliberating on fracking regulations) about the risks in going forward with this drilling activity. Basically what they said was this: “The U.S. Geological Survey has warned New York State regulators that their plan to allow drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale could endanger private water wells, municipal aquifers and New York City’s drinking water supply.” The data supporting their statements is staggering.
My climb up the valley took me 2.5 miles to the trail’s end at a small cabin site. From there to the summit requires another mile of bushwhacking, an act I’ll try to accomplish on another day. I investigated one of the featured sites along the brook– a sidehill spring that measures about 50 feet in width while dripping down over moss and other plants to the run. I thought about a couple of unsubstantiated claims that cougar have been sighted in the area. The place is wild enough, but as a forest measuring only three square miles, the claimants must’ve been dreaming or just plain deranged. Does the valley have a chance to become preserved as it is someday? I doubt it. There’s just too many disparate landowers involved to come to any agreement.
There’s a work-in-progress called Genesee River Wilds that is basically a program for trails development for conservation and recreational purposes along the Genesee and Pine Creek watersheds. It’s a good program but, in my opinion, if there’s a real “wilds” to the upper Genesee it’s here in the valley that I’m speaking of.
I saw that the recent lumber activity has produced collections of sediment along the Jeep trail and has probably moved some to the brook. Again, I hoped that the work here wasn’t an open doorway to a drilling operation.
A small group of people have an appreciation for this so-called wild place, but not enough people are aware of it to make a difference if push comes to shove. If you happen to know of a remnant wild land that’s not only valuable in and of itself but also for present and future generations of our own kind, try to get to know it as much as possible. The connections that you make may help the place survive.