Friends of Salt Springs Park – Preserving a Piece of Pennsylvania Paradise

Salt Springs Park

If you happen to be driving by Montrose, in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, you might come across something very special. Salt Springs Park stretches across 842 acres and it’s a sight to behold. The park features beautiful campgrounds, extensive hiking trails, three breathtaking waterfalls, a rich natural landscape as well as a historical heritage that runs quite deep. One of the first things you’ll notice stepping in is the unspoiled rustic charm of the area. The park is maintained in such a way that makes it welcoming to visitors, but without disturbing the original character of the lands as it once was. Once inside, you can take your pick of activities to fill your day. The site is suitable for hiking, camping, picnics, hunting, fishing, events and more.

Photo courtesy of Bill Bourne

Who are the Friends of Salt Springs Park?

The park as we know it today is the result of years of hard work from a dedicated group of volunteers called the Friends of Salt Springs Park.

The park was first opened in 1973, when the Bureau of State Parks purchased the land from the Wheaton family. Not only was the area a beautiful stretch of wilderness, it also carried great geological, historical, and environmental significance. The Bureau of State Parks’ funds, however, were stretched quite thin at the time and they were unable to keep up with the maintenance expenses. Efforts were made over time to try to obtain more government funding to properly care for the park, but they did not have much luck.

In 1994, a group of proactive citizens, along with the Susquehanna County Commissioners, approached the Bureau of State Parks once more. Their request this time was a lot different, and it proved to be a game changer. Taking matters into their own hands, instead of asking for more funding, they asked for permission to raise the funds for the park themselves. After months of negotiations and planning, they obtained the go-ahead and thus Friends of Salt Springs Park was born. It’s quite an interesting scenario because this is the only case of a state park in Pennsylvania being fully managed by a volunteer group. Nevertheless, they dug right in. In addition to that, they also took it upon themselves to more than double the original 405 acre property by purchasing another 437 acres of adjacent land under their own name. While the initial lot is still a state owned park, the group cares for and develops the entire 842 acre stretch of land. This turned Salt Springs Park into the “Pennsylvania Paradise” we see today.

As mentioned before, the history of the area actually goes a long way. Stretching as far back as the early 1800s, the land was originally used for salt mining, In the early 1840s, the land was purchased by the Wheaton family. From then, up until 1973, the land was kept and cherished by six generations of Wheatons. They held a tradition of inviting guests over to picnic and hike on the vast property. In hopes of carrying on the tradition and welcoming more people to the area, the Wheatons sold the property to the Bureau of State Parks so that it can become a park. Today, the Friends of Salt Springs honour that tradition by maintaining the area while also running the multitude of activities and educational programs.

Trails

The park offers several diverse trails for public use, varying in length and scenery as well as difficulty. They range from 0.25 miles up to 2 miles, and there are currently plans to expand them further. For the full details, you should check out their trails information page.

Camping

For those wanting to camp, the park offers plenty of opportunity. You can choose any one of the tent sites, or you can opt for the rustic cottages. The cottages as well as the barn are preserved with their full historic character, allowing you to catch a glimpse of the quiet life of the mid 19th century.

Visitors are encouraged to read over the rules and regulations of the campgrounds before settling in. You can check out the full information on their camping page.

Hunting and Fishing

Hunting is allowed throughout most of the park, with the exception of the camping sites, picnic area, and the nature reserve area near the waterfalls.

Fishing is also permitted in the two streams that cross the park. They are designated Approved Trout Waters by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and are stocked twice per year.

Programs and Education

The Friends of Salt Springs Park put together a full program of activities that visitors can participate in year round. They schedule guided tours of the areas as well as the historic houses, they host student field trips, and also provide a range educational programs. During the winter, visitors can participate in any of their winter events that include snow drifts, animal tracking, and more.

Their public education programs include talks and workshops, as well as more hands-on activities like archery, birdwatching, and stargazing.

The old Wheaton household and barn are also fully preserved and open to visitors so that they can come see a living piece of local history. It is possible to rent out the barn pavilion for events or for weddings as well.

Photo courtesy of April Nelson

Support Your Friends

All of the above would not be even remotely possible without the hard work of the Friends of Salt Springs Park. They are a volunteer centred organization that loves this park and wants to see it thrive. Even more so, they do this without any funding or financial assistance from the government. Years upon years later, they still mean what they said back in 1994 – that they will fundraise and care for the park as if it was their own. And so they did! Not only that, but they continue to ensure that membership and program fees are kept affordable so that the park continues to be accessible to everyone out there.

If you want to be a friend to a beautiful slice of nature and history, you should consider making a donation or purchasing a membership. Last but not least, should you find yourself in the area, be sure to pull in to say hi and check it out for yourself!

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