Using Our Protected Lands & Water
Luzerne County, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a whole, is lucky to have many acres of protected land and water. Some of this land is owned by the Commonwealth or local municipalities, and some is owned by not-for-profit organizations or private citizens and protected by land trusts and other programs.
Protected land and water provides a wealth of benefits to citizens, far beyond the cost of protection. Benefits include absorption of stormwater and flood prevention, passive pollution treatment systems (water, air and light pollution), wildlife habitat protection, propagation of game and sportfish, and local climate/temperature stabilization, and many many more.
Much of our protected land and water is also available for recreation, including walking, bicycling, hunting, fishing, paddling, swimming, picnicking and many other options.
The list below shows how to use each type of publicly protected property, and where to go for more information:
- Local Parks and Trails: For more information about local parks and trails contact the municipality or local park or trail organization using links at www.kazpassport.org. Some information is also available at the visitor’s bureau webside, www.tournepa.com. Facilities and uses at local parks vary from basic– playgrounds and playing fields– to more specialized, including handball courts, fishing lakes, swimming pools, and motorcross trails. Local trails are usually either hiking trails, mountain biking trails or multi-use trails. Multi-use trails have a packed gravel surface, or even asphalt and avoid steep grades. These trails offer moderate exercise for bicyclists and walkers who may not want to undertake steep climbs, rocky surfaces, narrow paths, or other challenges.
- Local Conservation Properties: Undeveloped properties may be conserved via a conservation easement administered by the North Branch Land Trust or by the Wildlands Conservancy for properties near the Lehigh River. Some properties allow public access. Contact the North Branch Land Trust at www.nblt.org or the Wildlands Conservancy at http://www.wildlandspa.org. Luzerne County also runs an Agricultural Land Preservation Program which preserves farms on significant soils via conservation easements. For more information call the Luzerne County Planning Commission at 570-825-1560 or select the program at the planning commission website: www.luzernecounty.org/county/departments_agencies/planning_commission
- Lakes, Rivers, Water Trails and other Waters of the Commonwealth: The Fish and Boat Commission has jurisdiction over all waters of the Commonwealth, “all inland, tidal and boundary waters whether navigable and non-navigable”; this includes all streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of all sizes. The Commission also owns or controls nearly 300 fishing and boating access sites – roughly half of the state’s access that is open to the public.
Commonwealth waters provide opportunities for many different forms of recreation—boating, kayaking, canoeing, water-skiing and jet-skiing, and fishing, including gathering bait fish and other water creatures (frogs, etc). However, swimming is prohibited at Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission lakes and access areas. The Fish and Boat Commission has mapped over 1000 miles of water trails, including the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County; these are routes suitable for canoes, kayaks and small motorized watercraft. Water trails are comprised of access points, boat launches, day use sites, and — in some cases — overnight camping areas.
The mission of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is to protect, conserve and enhance the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide fishing and boating opportunities. The Commission enforces rules and issues licenses for fishing and boating in order to minimize conflicts and maintain the quality of aquatic resources. Licenses issued include annual fishing licenses, boat registrations for motorboats and boats powered by electric motors, boater safety certificates for people operating personal water craft (jetskis), and launch permits to permit all boats (including kayaks, canoes and other boats without motors) to launch from a State Park or Commission boat launch.
For more information contact the North East Pennsylvania Regional Office of the Fish and Boat Commission at 5566 Main Road Sweet Valley, PA (570) 477-5717or go to the Fish and Boat Commission website at www.fish.state.pa.us.
- State Forests: The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) Bureau of Forestry is charged with managing state forests “under sound ecosystem management, to retain their wild character and maintain biological diversity while providing pure water, opportunities for low density recreation, habitats for forest plants and animals, sustained yields of quality timber, and environmentally sound utilization of mineral resources.”
Recreational uses of state forests include camping, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, paddling and boating, birding, rock climbing, ATV riding, hunting, snowmobiling, and other uses. Specific uses depend on each individual forest. Luzerne County State Forest land is part of PA DCNR District 11, the Lackawanna State Forest. For more information, and maps, contact the district office at RR 1, Box 230 Dalton, PA (570) 945-7133 or see www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/stateforests/lackawanna.
- State Parks: The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources manages 116 State Parks via its Bureau of State Parks. The primary purpose of state parks is to provide opportunities for enjoying healthful outdoor recreation and to serve as outdoor classrooms for environmental education. In meeting these purposes, the conservation of the natural, scenic, aesthetic, and historical values of the parks are given first consideration. Unlike State Forests and Gamelands, state parks are not managed for resource extraction (minerals, logging) or game propagation, though hunting is permitted in certain state parks.
Luzerne County includes 4 state parks wholly or in part in its boundaries: Francis Slocum State Park, Nescopeck State Park, Lehigh Gorge State Park, and Ricketts Glen State Park. Over 4,000 acres of state park land are located in Luzerne County, though the four state parks in total encompass more than 20,000 acres of park land. Recreational activities available differ from park to park, but include activities such as swimming, rafting, snow-shoeing, hiking, bicycling, and camping. State parks hire naturalists to provide environmental education programs during summer months, like star watching, insect observation and others—Nescopeck State Parks’ environmental education center provides year-round programming. All four state parks include significant water features, from waterfalls to white water rafting, to fishing lakes (a valid fishing license is required).
To find out more about what is happening, and permitted activities in local state parks, use the State park website and calendar for the North- East Pennsylvania Mountain Region at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/region_northeast.aspx. Also, use the links for the individual state parks in Luzerne County on this website to contact the specific park offices.
- State Gamelands: The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for managing all of Pennsylvania’s wild birds and mammals. To ensure wild animals always have food and shelter, the agency, since 1920, has been purchasing lands for inclusion in its State Game Lands system, which currently contains about 300 separate tracts comprising a total of more than 1.4 million acres. Each State Game Lands has an individual management plan designed to improve wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities. Hunters, anglers, hikers, birdwatchers and other wildlife enthusiasts are welcome on State Game Lands.
Hunters and trappers must pay for the appropriate licenses and inform themselves of seasons and bag limits by contacting the Game Commission or looking at the Game Commission website. Youth under the age of 17 must complete a Hunter-Trapper education course before applying for their first license. Youth under the age of 12 need a Mentored Youth Hunt permit.
Equestrians and bicycles may only use dedicated routes in State Game lands, and may not use trails from during specific hunting seasons in the fall through much of January and in April and May. Registered snow-mobiles may use dedicated routes from the third Sunday in January until April 1st. The Game Commission also operates public shooting ranges at State Gamelands, including two in Luzerne County, at State Gameland 91 and Gameland 206.
Luzerne County includes over 45, 000 acres of State Gamelands in multiple parcels ranging in size from 300 acres to over 14,000 acres. To find maps of State Gamelands in Luzerne County and dedicated routes for snow-mobiles, equestrians and bicycles, see Pennsylvania Game Commission website at www.pgc.state.pa.us and go to Northeast Regional Office under “About Us” , or contact the office at PO Box 220, Dallas PA, (570) 675-1143.