Tulpehocken Creek Watershed Association

Water is an essential ingredient to life on our planet. Our namesake tributary, the Tulpehocken Creek, was given its name by a Native American tribe that inhabited our region. “Tulpehocken” translates to “Land of Turtles”. Europeans, settling in Berks County, as early as 1712, utilized water for its life giving qualities as well as their agriculture, power and transportation needs. Today, we utilize water from these local streams, rivers and aquifers to provide water for drinking, bathing and living. We also use water for our agricultural, industrial and energy production needs.

Tulpehocken Creek Watershed Association

A program of Berks Nature, the TCWA is a relatively young organization, initiated in October of 2018. However, past watershed restoration and improvement efforts on the Tulpehocken have been implemented by grassroots-driven volunteers and organizations. In particular, through the leadership of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Berks County Conservancy.

The Tulpehocken Creek Watershed Association (TCWA) is dedicated to the monitoring, conserving, and restoration of the Tulpehocken Creek Watershed’s exceptional rivers and streams. Healthy rivers and clean water align with TCWA values. Creating an understanding of the value of this resource to our community is an important goal of TWCA. Our efforts, through educational outreach, will focus on how we can live, work and enjoy the recreational opportunities provided by this resource while staying in harmony with our natural world.

Passion for the “Tully”

The TCWA wants to create opportunities to bring together local residents, organizations, and businesses that are passionate about the “Tully”.  Our motivations for clean water as a community may vary, but the value that these efforts can bring to our quality of life are indisputable. The people, businesses, industries, and farms within the Tulpehocken Watershed all contribute to pollution that ends up in these local streams and waterbodies that feed into the Tulpehocken Creek. This water then travels into the Schuylkill River, which joins the Delaware River in Philadelphia, before continuing into the tidal estuaries of the Delaware Bay and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. Pollutants in our local streams can affect you and millions of people downstream. The quality of drinking water and stream habitats for hundreds of miles are impacted by our activities.

Throughout the past decade, there has been increased awareness of the urban and agricultural pollutants that are contaminating our water supply. This awareness in only a start. The efforts of other watershed alliances, such as in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, have created long lasting, significant changes in the quality of the water flowing through and out of our communities. TCWA believes that by engaging in educational outreach and volunteerism, a significant impact on the quality of our water flowing within and out of our watershed can be achieved.

We view the communities that comprise the Tulpehocken Watershed as our partners. These communities include:

Berks County
Bern Township
Bernville Borough
Centre Township
Heidelberg Township
Jefferson Township
Lower Heidelberg Township
Marion Township
North Heidelberg Township
Penn Township
City of Reading
Robesonia Borough
Sinking Spring Borough
Spring Township
South Heidelberg Township
Tulpehocken Township
Upper Bern Township
Upper Tulpehocken Township
Wernersville Borough
Womelsdorf Borough
Wyomissing Borough

Lebanon County
Heidelberg Township
Jackson Township
Millcreek Township
Myerstown Borough
North Lebanon Township
Richland Borough
South Lebanon Township

Location

The headwaters of the Tulpehocken Creek originate in the foothills just west of Myerstown, with smaller tributaries originating in the Blue Mountain to the north and South Mountain to the south.  The Creek runs east until it reaches Reading, where it empties into the Schuylkill River, a main tributary to the Delaware River.

The total drainage area contains about 113 miles of streams in the watershed. The drainage area is 352 square miles, about 225,000 acres. The main corridor of the Tulpehocken Creek is about 40 miles long, of which 29 miles were designated as a Pennsylvania Scenic River.

This designation is intended to protect the natural, aesthetic, and recreational values of a waterway.  The river runs through a variety of land uses including flowing through several towns, across large portions of agricultural lands, and through a large reservoir, Blue Marsh Lake which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970’s for flood control, water supply, and recreation.

The Tulpehocken Creek, below the Blue Marsh Dam to the Red Covered Bridge is classified as “Special Regulated Trout Waters”. This delayed harvest section specifies the use of only artificial lures.  Blue Marsh Lake Reservoir from above the dam is also classified as a Trout Stream Fishery.  The Tulpehocken Creek Corridor was found to satisfy eligibility criteria for Scenic River Designation for its Historic, Fishery/Wildlife, Vegetative, Recreational and Cultural Value.  Streams that are classified as High Quality have additional requirements in place for to protect this rare and valuable watershed designation. The PA Department of Environmental Protection monitors and enforces these additional requirements.

The Tully Watershed’s Value Beyond its Water

In addition to improving and protecting the Tulpehocken Watershed waters, many within our community have strong connections to and a great appreciation of the other historical, natural, and recreational assets within the watershed.

Here in the Tully, heritage and nature intertwine and tell a story of how our local culture was born, and this seamless union of history and recreation is at the core of much of the County’s parks, trails, and PA game lands. Our county’s appreciation for the natural world has led to the creation of many of our amazing community parks, trails, and natural areas in our area.

The Tulpehocken Watershed in south central Berks County, was settled through land grants from Thomas and Richard Penn in 1733 by German farmers and artisans who arrived from upstate New York. Prominent among the early settlers were John Hiester.  At one time the Hiesters owned thousands of acres along the Tulpehocken and built several mills. Peter Herbein owned quarries, a distillery and a mill.

Properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places – which lie along the Tulpehocken Creek – include Wertz’s Covered Bridge; Gruber Wagon Works; Reiser Mill; and Rieser-Shoemaker Farm. Wertz’s Covered Bridge (1867), known locally as the Red Bridge (road closed to vehicles), is one of the longest one-lane covered bridges in Pennsylvania. Stretching 204 feet across the Tulpehocken Creek, it serves as a link between Bern and Spring Townships. It was erected in 1867 using the Burr Arch-Truss construction design. In 1979, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gruber Wagon Works Berks Heritage Center is a national historic landmark. It is the most complete example of an integrated rural manufactory of its kind in the nation.

C. Howard Hiester Canal Center houses the largest private collection of 19th century canal memorabilia in America. Canal artifacts from the Schuylkill Navigation Company and the Hiester Boatyard include the houseboat “Mildred” – which plied the Schuylkill Canal between Reading and Philadelphia, a toll collection booth, and a pilot house from the tugboat “Dolphin”.

The Union Canal (est. 1827) was 79 ½ miles in length and ran from Reading on the Schuylkill River to Middletown on the Susquehanna River. The canal towpath that paralleled Tulpehocken Creek has been repurposed for use as the 4 ½ mile county-owned Union Canal Trail – that connects the City of Reading to Blue Marsh Park and Recreation area.

The area surrounding this section of the Tulpehocken Creek is home to many of the County Park system’s historical and recreational assets. The Berks County Heritage Center, Gring’s Mill Recreation Area, Red Bridge Recreation Area, Stonecliffe Recreation Area, and the Youth Recreation Facility athletic fields.

The story of the Tulpehocken Creek Watershed would not be complete without mention of Blue Marsh Lake – which was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 70s, for flood control, water supply, and water quality and has since evolved into a regional and State recreational hot spot for fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, picnicking, biking, running, horseback riding, leisure, and bird watching. Land was acquired by the government and properties demolished in Jefferson, Penn, Bern, Lower Heidelberg and North Heidelberg townships and Bernville Borough; Blue Marsh was the name of the village, in Lower Heidelberg Township, that was located where the lake now is. According to the Army Corps’ website, the dam is “located on the Tulpehocken Creek and the project’s water control practices benefit the downstream communities of Reading, Birdsboro, Pottstown, Conshohocken and sections of Philadelphia.” The lake property offers “over 36 miles of trails, 6200 acres of land, 1148 acres of water, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches.” The dam is “an earth fill dam that that is 1,775 feet long, 98 feet high and can hold upwards of 16.28 billion gallons of water. During the summer months, the water level is maintained at 290 feet above sea level. In the winter the lake is drawn down five feet to provide for additional flood water storage.” An estimated 463,000 visitors recreated at Blue Marsh in 2018.

TCWA Moving Forward

While the TCWA’s specific projects, community events, and water quality efforts will grow and evolve as the group develops – the volunteers are guided by several core objectives to guide their watershed decisions:   

  • Educate!
    • Explore opportunities to teach residents, students, boroughs & townships, agricultural professionals, and businesses about the character, history, and potential future of the Watershed area
    • Create an environment at TCWA meetings, events, and projects – where committee volunteers of all backgrounds are comfortable and empowered to share information on the Tulpehocken Creek Watershed, and learn from each other
    • Build relationships with municipal and agricultural partners; become a regional contributor to their public education efforts associated with stormwater management and pollutant & nutrient reduction plans
    • Monitor our streams, advocate, and model research-based best management practices
    • Foster an appreciation of the rich history of the area with an emphasis toward preserving this resource
  • Map it!
    • Develop a map of the Tulpehocken Watershed and identify and record key environmental resources to preserve; it should identify
      • springs, streams, ponds, lakes, and other water bodies;
      • areas of existing and potential recreational use;
      • historical and cultural assets;
      • suggested locations for water monitoring;
      • and sources of potential contamination and pollutant contributors
    • Use the map as a tool to invoke appreciation and respect for the Tulpehocken Watershed
  • Clean, Restore, Improve, and Preserve it!
    • Identify areas in need of clean up and rally resources to execute the work; take advantage of annual, regional clean up opportunities to tag onto – in/around the Schuylkill River area
    • Support the efforts of organizations involved in sustaining a greenway along the Tulpehocken Creek, and other like-minded groups that can partner and contribute people power and other resources toward accomplishing the goals of TCWA
    • Work with the farming community – either directly or in partnership with existing organizations – to minimize conflicts between agricultural practices and clean water through the effective use of setbacks and riparian buffers
    • Encourage municipalities to develop land use ordinances and regulations to foster innovative site design and alternatives to standard subdivisions, such as conservation development; attend municipal public meetings to present proven practices such as the following: *Discouraging residential development in areas not suitable for on-site sewage disposal, which are not planned for public sewers; *Protecting the natural features of floodplains, wetlands, and drainage swales by limiting their disturbance and avoiding negative impacts on adjacent properties; *Minimizing alterations to existing topography, particularly through protection of steep slope areas from disturbance; *and Preserving open space for recreation purposes around Blue Marsh Reservoir, County-owned land and assets, local park systems, and the Tulpehocken Creek)
    • Decide on stream restoration or habitat improvement priority projects; identify grant funding opportunities and when appropriate, pursue local fundraising efforts or private/business contributions to move the projects forward.

Want to learn more?

TCWA hold monthly meetings and events that are open to the entire community. The only requirement is to have an interest in the Tulpehocken Watershed – any interest, whether it be a love of water, nature, community, recreation – there are plenty of ways to get involved!

Our members come from all walks of life and a hodgepodge of personality, background, age, and skills that come together to share in a common passion for the Tulpehocken Watershed. A scientific background is not required.

Consider this a great opportunity to learn about water quality and aquatic life in your local stream Learn how different land uses and urban behaviors affect the water. Whether you want to help educate the community, clean up the stream banks, work behind the scenes to help market the TCWA, connect with the natural world or get “hands on” training testing local water quality – we have a spot for you.

Take a look at some of the more “active” ways our volunteers plan to get involved:

Stream Monitoring

Stream monitors are trained to measure important elements of stream health on a monthly basis, to determine the quality of the water and to identify problem areas. Specific sites throughout the watershed are targeted in coordination with local, county and statewide organizations.

Don’t fret if you don’t know anything about water quality or testing – Berks Nature will train you! The TCWA team is provided water testing kits through Berks Nature.  You can eventually have your own stream location to regularly test. We record your data in a web app known as “Globe” – a NASA-sponsored program that utilizes students and people like you to collect environmental data from around the world. Cool stuff, right?

Data collected by TCWA is also shared with our partner organizations, including Berks County Conservation District, Reading Area Water Authority, Schuylkill Action Network, Lehigh County Conservation District and Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Macroinvertebrate Workshops

Throughout the year, TCWA will hold macroinvertebrate workshops, where everyone can have fun collecting, identifying and learning about aquatic life. Stream macroinvertebrate life includes insects, worms, crustaceans, clams, etc. that are visible without the aid of a microscope.  These creatures provide a means for assessing water quality based on their tolerance to various levels of dissolved oxygen.

Riparian Repair, Invasive Removal, and Stream Clean-ups:

Other activities the TCWA plans to conduct include tree-plantings and removal of invasive, non-native vegetation; these plants often grow rapidly and displace plants that were native to our area, which can have consequences on the entire surrounding habitat – including fish and wildlife.  These efforts start with locating areas where riparian buffers (the vegetated barriers between land and a waterbody) can be re-established or extended and identifying areas where invasive non-native vegetation has taken over.  Also, the group will be actively involved with recreational clean-ups to remove trash in and along our streams.

Educational Opportunities:

TCWA is also involved with promoting drinking water protection and encouraging responsible choices about environmental issues affecting the watershed – for both children and adults. We advocate and educate the public and municipalities on the importance and best management practices of stormwater runoff.  TCWA also promotes agricultural and forest land protection.

How you can help your watershed at home:

Simple things you can do at home which help reduce the impact you have on your watershed include the following:

  • Install a rain barrel to collect the storm water draining from your roof.
  • Mow less, grow more; Reduce the amount of non-native grasses and plant native vegetation on your property.
  • Compost your yard, food and paper waste.
  • Garden without using fertilizers or use them sparingly; Avoid the use of pesticides and weed killers and when needed, opt for natural and certified organic varieties.
  • Allow a buffer of native vegetation to grow along streams, ponds or wetlands.

Other ways you can help:

  • Donate – Make tax deductible donations to help protect rivers and public water supplies
  • Get informed – Learn about your watershed stay informed about threats
  • Share Time and Talents – Volunteer
  • Think Clean water at home – Conserve water and energy
  • Spread the word – Tell your neighbors how they can get involved, share your river stories on social media
  • Tell your political leaders that clean water is essential to life
  • Buy local – Support family farmers that produce fresh wholesome food with stewardship in mind

Upcoming Events and Future Projects

Check back in to see what short term activities and projects the TCWA decides to pursue!

Learn more about the Tulpehocken Creek Watershed Association and how to get involved by contacting Michael Griffith at 610-372-4992 x108, or michael.griffith@berksnature.org.