Winter hike in the Poconos offers dose of conservation inspiration

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Maybe it’s the low, end-of-year light, but on the trail to Mount Wismer, I seem to feel forest life settling down all around me. Black bears denning up, sows soon to birth young. White-tailed deer snuffling the leaf litter for acorns and beechnuts. Coyote and foxes, fishers and otters, rabbits, mice, and voles — do they smell snow coming? The cold-blooded creatures are still.

The sense of connectedness to the natural world is strong here. It’s quiet. The only sounds are the crunch of boots, rustle of leaves, and sighing breezes among bare branches.

And then I hear voices. Coming around the bend are hikers — young families, the fathers carrying bundled toddlers on their shoulders. We greet each other with surprised delight; strangers, sharing the bond of this beautiful place.

These people, two and three generations down the line from me, are why protecting more land like this matters so terribly much.

Your voices:Readers share their take on climate change in the Poconos

Whether you believe the scientists or the skeptics about the causes of climate upheaval no longer really matters. Our warming planet is already less livable for humans.

Not only far-away nations suffer sunny-day flooding and grotesque algae blooms. It’s towns all along our own southeast and Gulf coasts. Not only polar bears and penguins suffer when seas warm and rise. It’s also people who fish for a living from Maine to California.

Not only “other people” suffer droughts, landslides, fires and floods and mega-storms, costing lives, homes, livelihoods, whole towns. It’s our friends, our neighbors, ourselves.

Conserving forested land in its natural state is one really effective climate action.

That’s because trees are the single most effective way we have of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. At about 99 tons per acre, Mount Wismer’s 90-acre patch of forest stores nearly 9,000 tons of carbon. Its trees and soil purify air, scrub pollutants from water, hold back floodwaters, protect wild creatures and their habitat, and undergird the balance of nature — all while providing free recreation for all.

And everyone can help conserve our forests. At the urging of citizens, townships and boroughs throughout Monroe County, along with local land trusts, have protected 20,000 acres of open space – a valiant start, but barely 5% of the county’s area. More is needed.

Of interest:The Poconos depend on recreation and tourism. How will climate change affect the industry?

When you stand at the viewpoint on Mount Wismer, spread out below you are thousands of acres of trees — the forested watershed of Brodhead Creek. Every drop of water that rises here from wetlands, seeps and springs, and all the rain that falls and snow that melts, flows to the Brodhead and the wide Delaware River beyond. Protecting these forests protects water — and the future — for millions of people.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever again see those families I met on the trail. But actions we all take today will protect us, and them, our grandchildren’s grandchildren and generations to come.

If you go: The upper trailhead for Mount Wismer Nature Preserve is 5 miles north of the Canadensis light on Route 447, between Spruce Lake and Lake in the Clouds, on the right. Look for “Mount Wismer Preserve” street sign. The lower trailhead is shared with the Gravel Preserve, with parking off Gravel Road, 4 miles north of the Canadensis light on the right.

This land was purchased using funds dedicated by the voters of Barrett Township for acquiring open space, with support from Monroe County Open Space and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Thank you!

For trail maps, a video, photos and more about Mount Wismer, see brodheadwatershed.org/mount-wismer

Carol Hillestad is a hike leader and writer for Get Outdoors Poconos, a grant-funded series administered by Brodhead Watershed Association.

Go to brodheadwatershed.org/gopoconos for information on this as well as other preserved lands and hiking areas in the Get Outdoors Poconos series. The series is administered by Brodhead Watershed Association and supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

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