One Stream At A Time (from Window on the Chesapeake)
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Image from Window on the Chesapeake
Hear Sound Clip
In the hilly farm country near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, God lives close to the red-tinted earth. You can see it in the hand-written signs quoting scripture in front of tidy brick homes—one phrase per side, so you get a little religion coming and going. You can see it on the storefronts, posted with the note “Closed for Ascension Day.” It’s in the bowed heads of Amish women who kneel in riotously blooming flower beds, and in the stoic shoulders of men as they guide teams of mules at the plow. From here, the watermen and oysters and long, flat horizons of the Chesapeake Bay seem a world away, as distant as the moon. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Cover from Window on the Chesapeake
This story is an excerpt from Window on the Chesapeake by Wendy Mitman Clarke. To order this book, visit the Mariner's Museum.
Matt Ehrhart steers his pickup along narrow roads flanked with daisies and honeysuckle, slowing down every time he crosses a stream. He’s meandering along Indian Run, a creek like hundreds of others in this neck of southern Pennsylvania—that is to say shallow, narrow, fairly slow, and profoundly important to the Bay some thirty miles distant. “This is where it starts to go downhill, right here,” he says, as he pulls over across from a barn perched atop a low hill. There is no grass on the hillside, just an acre or so of pocked brown ooze—courtesy of the cows that walk from the barnyard down to the skinny creek at the bottom, where they drink, swat flies, defecate, chew cud and generally hang out. Across the street, more cows are doing the same in a narrow stretch of pasture along the stream. “See, almost that whole area should be a buffer,” Matt says, shaking his head. “We are still working on this guy.”

Several miles away, he pulls over again and points to a grassy swath embracing both sides of the same creek. The grass is thick and lush, and saplings and low shrubs stretch skyward. The cows here are still doing their bovine thing, but well away from the creek. “When we first sampled this stream we were just sampling manure, half-digested silage,” Matt says. “Just a year later there was a real bottom and actually critters crawling around in it. To watch [the buffer] come in and start looking like a forest is pretty satisfying, really.”

As assistant director and watershed restoration manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania office in Harrisburg, thirty-three-year-old Matt finds in untarnished streams the kind of glory and gratification an opera buff might find in a Puccini aria. He has been seduced by them since he was a boy growing up in nearby New Holland. He has flailed away at them with a fly rod, he has watched his young son find the same wondrous world within their riffles and pools. He has made his home on one here near Ephrata, a sun-dappled, silver ribbon called Segloch Run, one of a handful of streams in southern Pennsylvania healthy enough to support a population of wild trout. He wants to make every creek and brook within this place of red earth, green hills and devout people look, sound and feel like this one.

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