Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — November 2009

Middle Creek — Habitat, Habitat

by Gary Thornbloom

Enjoying tens of thousands of snow geese in late winter, or exploring one of the many trails throughout the 6,254 acres protected by the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, two miles south of Kleinfeltersville, on the Lancaster/Lebanon county line, makes this a rewarding destination. Although home to many Pennsylvania mammals, the focus is on a refuge for migrating waterfowl.

Refuges were used to bring back mammals, such as deer, in the past. As suitable resting places for migrating ducks, geese, and tundra swans dwindles due to development, refuges remain important for birds.

Geese take off at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

Geese take flight in the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Habitat is the key, and where suitable habitat is preserved or created, wildlife thrives. This is true whether it is elk in the PA Wilds, or snow geese and tundra swans at Middle Creek.

Words of Aldo Leopold are engraved on a plaque in the visitor center:

We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

Respect for the land and for habitat was obvious in the enthusiasm and commitment of Jim Binder, Manager at Middle Creek for the past 12 years, as he spoke to me about wildlife and habitat.

Middle Creek was created to provide hunters with the opportunity to hunt geese in eastern Pennsylvania and, because of the large number of Pennsylvanians living in the east, an education and a visitor center was also important. The center features displays of birds and mammals, conservation, and hunting. Some are child friendly and interactive. Chairs and a table with many binoculars and bird charts line a mostly glass wall that looks out on fields, woods and water. Birds are usually out there. A nesting pair of bald eagles may be seen fishing the lake.

This land is intensely managed with controlled burns, agriculture for wildlife, and mowing. Wildlife habitat is always the goal. One aspect of management is to keep some areas for wildlife propagation closed to people. Other areas are open for hunting. A paved loop provides a driving tour open to vehicles March 1 to September 15. Maps lay all this out, but according to Jim the easiest thing to do is “When you see a sign, read it!” By observing the posted areas you make wildlife viewing better for everyone. Wildlife often learns to tolerate the presence of people when people respect the animal’s comfort zone.

The ½-mile Willow Point Trail winds past both mown and tall grass fields. A few migrant snow geese and many Canada geese were in the mowed area. Small groups of geese constantly flew over and in front of the point. Several people in wheelchairs passed us as they returned on the paved path. Many children, parents and grandparents sat at a pavilion with tables at the end of the trail on a small bluff overlooking the lake. Geese and cormorants were out in the water. We looked for, but could not see, the nesting eagles.

Millstone Trail

Phil standing by the millstone on the Millstone Trail. · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Later Phil, a friend, and I hiked the Millstone Trail, 1.1 miles, described as “steep and rigorous” in the informational brochure and map available free at the visitor center. The rocky trail which passes an old charcoal pit and millstone quarry is a glimpse into the rich history of this land. The trail climbs from Parking Lot #5, just east of the dam that forms the lake, up the ridge through a mature hardwood forest, beautiful with fall yellow, gold and brown leaves. A thick millstone and nice view of the valley, lake, and surrounding farmland are your reward for making it to the top.

Several additional trails traverse the varied habitat of Middle Creek. Trail Guides are available for some of these trails, such as the Conservation Trail, 1.4 miles, described as “good for kids.”

Jim Binder summed up his management approach as “The way to achieve biodiversity is to provide a broad and diverse array of habitat.” Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is an excellent example of blending habitat managed for wildlife, which includes refuge, hunting, wildlife viewing, and educational components.

And I should mention that this land is a small part of 1.4 million acres that the Pennsylvania Game Commission manages for all wildlife and for all Pennsylvanians. The purchase and management of State Game Lands is funded entirely by hunters. Whenever I enjoy hiking, hunting, skiing, and wildlife watching on these lands I take a silent minute to thank the hunters who make this possible. For more information about and directions to Middle Creek, visit www.pgc.state.pa.us.

A visit to Middle Creek is not only enjoyable and educational, but it also dramatically reveals the success of the Pennsylvania Game Commission in its mission: To manage all wild birds, mammals and their habitats for current and future generations. On my recent visit I saw several generations, persons with a wide range of physical abilities, all enjoying the great outdoors with diverse habitat, and abundant wildlife. A visit any time of the year will get you excited about wildlife — and excited about habitat.

View from the ridge above Middle Creek from the Millstone Trail

View from the ridge above Middle Creek from the Millstone Trail · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net.