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Remember: Field Trip to the Lehigh Gap: Life as a Muhlenberg Student (2)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Field Trip to the Lehigh Gap: Life as a Muhlenberg Student (2)

Monday afternoon my Environmental Science class jammed in our white van and headed up 145 to meet Dan Kunkle at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

I had been meaning to visit this location for a long time and I was excited to finally be going.  Dan has led an environmental restoration without precedent anywhere in America, right here in the Lehigh Valley.  In 1983 the EPA declared parts of Palmerton including the “defoliated side of Blue Mountain” a superfund site for severe zinc pollution.  For years, residents of the Lehigh Valley recognized the moonscape these formerly lush deciduous forest hillsides had become for miles around.  

The moonscapes are changing.  Through an ecological experiment of primary succession using prairie grasses, birch trees, and the few remaining sassafras trees, Dan Kunkle has managed to begin to turn the tide and start the slow restoration of these barren mountainsides, even decomposers are rebounding. 

Led by Indiana Jones, er, Dr. Jason Kelsey,
We began our walk alongside the exposed Tuscarora sandstone of the Blue Mountain. 
Farther along, restoration sites were visible on both sides of the pathDSCN2726
Along the way Dan and Dr. Kelsey explained the ecological creation story that was taking place on this mountainside and it is truly incredible to see it taking place.  Dan’s success is paralleled by similar restorative efforts by the National Park Service across the river on the other side of the gap which have been far less successful.
Ancient Roman road building techniques are used to keep the old railroad bed from travelling down the mountainside.
As we rounded the corner, more hiking paths that lead to the top of the mountain above Devil’s pulpit lay enticingly across the moonscape.  Unfortunately, on limited time we did not have the chance for further exploration.  I will return to the Gap in the coming weeks for more hiking and documentation.
DSCN2740 DSCN2747
I joined my classmates Mike and Kit on a golf cart for the ride back.  Both of them have been on crutches for awhile and needed alternative transportation.  Appearances aside, Kit was a reasonably good golf cart driver.
Being able to see the primary succession taking full affect between the leaves of birch trees, the yellow flowers of sassafras and the old exposed centuries of stone is awe inspiring.  This area is a must see for any person living in the Valley, if you haven’t yet been there, go!
Dan’s story should serve as the template for future Superfund revitalization as well as any ecological restoration of pollution destroyed environments.  I was glad to be there with classmates who over the course of a year of study have become good friends; a great professor and a wonderful guide in Dan. 

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Blogger David said...

Good to go through this blog .. good experience...Golf cart Calgary

April 22, 2010 at 2:42 AM  
Blogger shelby marie skumanich. said...

Great post! I have been following the progress of this project and it's really interesting to see it grow. I drive through (or around, really) Palmerton pretty often and it's been really great to watch the green and the life come back to those hills.

Nice photos too. The first two shots are gorgeous.

April 22, 2010 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Katie Bee said...

This is great! I used to drive through there every weekend, it's so alien.

April 22, 2010 at 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan Kunkle is an amazing man who had done great things. I hope the Muhlenberg students were appropriately inspired to do as much with their lives.

April 28, 2010 at 2:33 AM  

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