CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Franklin County is unique in that three major watersheds begin here. (A quick reminder that a watershed is an area of land from which water flows into a particular waterway.) The headwaters of the Conodoguinet Creek, Conococheague Creek, and Antietam Creek begin in the mountains that border the county to the east and west. These creeks are major tributaries to the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers, both of which are major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay. For a great visual of streams in a dynamic, zoomable map, visit Stroud Water Research’s WikiWatersheds; Model My Watershed.
According to Stroud’s Model My Watershed, Franklin County hosts 1,698 miles of streams, 78% of which are first or second order streams – basically headwaters. Dozens of small streams, both limestone springs and freestone (mountain) streams, feed into these larger creeks, rolling down hillsides and emerging from the limestone valley. And according to the Franklin County Clean Water Plan Narrative, approximately 25% of all of Franklin County streams are impaired. (Visit the Department of Environmental Protection’s Integrated Water Quality Report for a map illustrating impaired waters.)
We have work to do to protect and enhance Franklin County’s waters for our communities as well as communities downstream, and the Master Watershed Steward (MWS) program is just getting its feet wet.
What have the Master Watershed Stewards been up to in Franklin County?
In the summer of 2021, the 1.5-year-old Cumberland County Master Watershed Steward program expanded to include Franklin and Adams counties. Our mission is to support watershed associations and conservation organizations by educating and empowering volunteers to protect and enhance our environmental resources. We also create partnerships, such as with school districts, libraries, health-related organizations, municipalities, and corporations, as well as conservation agencies and organizations, to leverage resources to increase watershed protection, stewardship, and awareness.
In Franklin County we have:
- Developed and implemented a 7-week outdoor summer program series in partnership with Grove Library, Chambersburg, aligning with their Oceans of Possibilities theme. The 1.5-hour Wednesday morning sessions were hosted at Caledonia State Park and Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and included a tour of the Guilford Township Water Treatment Plant and Chambersburg Wastewater Treatment Plant. In addition to Grove Library educators, partners included DCNR parks staff, Pheasants Forever, Franklin County Beekeepers, Leave No Trace, and water treatment plant employees.
- Assisted with outdoor education efforts with partners such as Shippensburg University, Shippensburg Area School District, Wilson College, Greencastle-Antrim School District, and Littlestown Area Library.
- Conducted our first Tap Talk in partnership with 633 Brewing LLC, Waynesboro, where Native Niche owner Becky Shubert presented the value and ecology of native plants.
What’s ahead for MWS in Franklin County?
Recruitment! Attracting community members to become Master Watershed Stewards and increasing Franklin County’s representation in the program is first and foremost. This will increase our capacity for on the ground projects, events, and initiatives. The next MWS training begins in March 2023 and applications are being accepted from now until mid-February. Information sessions for prospective stewards will take place in January, and interviews will take place in February. As we currently only have two stewards who reside in Franklin County (so far), we will be spreading the word far and wide, seeking volunteers from many walks of life.
In January, we will be hosting a Franklin County Community Partner meeting, inviting organizations, agencies, community groups, school districts, municipalities, etc. to the table to generate project ideas, learn about the needs of different communities, discover what people are concerned about, and share ideas about where and how the MWS program can plug in.
Looking ahead, we are also:
- In the early phases of establishing a live stake nursery in Franklin County. This involves planting an array of native trees and shrubs from which (about five years later) branches can be harvested and easily installed directly into stream banks to help reduce erosion.
- Planning more Tap Talks! These fun and educational sessions open the door for us to collaborate with a local brewery or cidery, invite interesting and engaging guest speakers, and introduce MWS program, projects, partners, and conservation topics to various audiences.
- Seeking to connect with schools! As our MWS volunteer base grows in Franklin County, we will have more capacity to offer assistance to area school districts with watershed education, Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences, campus planting projects, and more.
- Looking to connect with MS4 municipalities to help with their MS4 permit requirements. MS4 can be baffling to communities and municipal officials alike. Master Watershed Steward volunteers can help with minimum control measures related to public education and outreach.
- Expanding the Watershed Friendly Property program to allow properties of 15+ acres to apply. Farms, corporate and college campuses, and public lands can qualify and share the message that meadows, riparian buffers and other stormwater best management practices on these properties are intentional and are providing ecosystem services.
- Hosting our annual tree sale fundraiser. Pa native tree and shrub orders are taken online starting in early August, and the plants are delivered in September or October, in time for fall planting. Customer pick-up has historically been at the Cumberland County Extension office, but we will likely expand delivery locations to Franklin and/or Adams counties in coming years.
The Master Watershed Steward Program is poised and ready to engage with communities to protect and enhance, not just the 400+/- miles of impaired waters in Franklin County, but all of these important headwaters. Let’s work together to see that the water flowing out of beautiful Franklin County is the best it can be.
–Holly Smith, Penn State Extension