Something miraculous is about to occur along Central Pennsylvania’s legendary Spring Creek. On September 30, the Spring Creek Canyon will officially be opened to the public for hunting, hiking, biking, and fishing. This stretch of Spring Creek has been closed for a very long time. It was owned by Rockview prison but always on the mind of local anglers. If you fished downstream from the Benner Springs access, or upstream from the fabled Fisherman’s Paradise access, you would ultimately find beautiful, forest-lined, limestone water full of wild trout and posted signs telling you to stay away from it.
Sure, I know some people who would occasionally fish beyond the posted signs. And I may even have a recollection of trout feverishly consuming 17 year cicadas in the canyon (those records have been sealed so its hard to say where I was fishing at that time), but you weren’t supposed to be there. When anglers did slip into the prison water, it was hard to feel comfortable, knowing that you could get thrown out of there at any time (uh, at least that’s what I’ve been told). But that all began to change when former Governor Ed Rendell announced that the property would be sold.
But the land didn’t quickly, or easily, transfer to the public. Not long after Governor Rendell stated that it had to be sold, Penn State University announced that it wanted it. You see, there’s more to this property than just Spring Creek. The entire estate contains 1800 acres of forest, fields, and limestone trout stream. Spring Creek also runs through State College, and State College would barely exist without the university. So, for occasionally better, and often worse, Penn State usually gets what it wants in these parts. And I shudder to think of all the beautiful student housing and other Penn State creations that could have been erected in this untouched canyon had it been allowed to purchase all of the property.
Penn State has a long, troubled history with Spring Creek. Development has created hard, paved surfaces that warm the water in the summer and create run-off turbitity issues. Wells built by the growing population surrounding Penn State deplete Spring Creek’s aquifer. But perhaps Penn State’s greatest abuse of this little creek came in the 1950’s when a professor poured cyanide down a drain that emptied into the creek, killing trout for miles and wiping out one of the greatest Green Drake hatches in the world, forever.
To be fair, Penn State isn’t the only entity to degrade Spring Creek; there’s enough blame to go around for everyone. The Nease Chemical company discharged toxins into the creek for years, resulting in a super fund site today. The prison has had issues with their sewage effluent in the past. And the Fish and Boat Commission continues to degrade the creek with the effluent from its two hatcheries. But in spite of all this degradation, and a testament to creek’s greatness, today Spring Creek has the highest concentration of wild trout of any stream in Pennsylvania. Amazing.
And that leads me back to the good news. Something rare, almost unheard of in 2011, has happened. The powerful, wealthy university lost its fight. They lost largely from a local, grass-roots uprising that has ensured protection for the canyon, forever. The Fish and Boat Commission will take control of Spring Creek. The Game Commission will regulate the forest, and Penn State will get the fields that were formerly prison farm fields. I never thought this could happen. But if you have the time, come to the Benner Springs access on September 30, and you’ll be able to see a true, real-life miracle for yourself. Here’s a link from the PA Fish and Boat Commission’s web site for more information:
One final thought:though the prison had to get rid of this part of its property, it’s still open for business. So next year, if you’re down in the canyon on a warm spring day, waiting for the fish to begin rising to sulphurs, you may not want to borrow that floatant you forgot from anyone in an orange jump suit and leg-irons.