Delaware Highlands Conservancy


The Conservancy focuses on land protection, education, and community initiatives within the Upper Delaware River region.

If Pennsylvania does one thing well, it’s waterways. From the Delaware River in the east to the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela in the west, what Pennsylvania lacks in mountains it makes up for in rivers and waterfalls galore (fun fact: Ricketts Glen State Park has 22 waterfalls alone).

Water was a running theme (see what I did there?) in my talk with Bethany Keene and Jason Zarnowski from the Delaware Highlands Conservancy. They have a variety of community programs—everything from teaching women landowners on how to best steward their land, to running eagle viewing sites in the winter—but one of their primary focuses is land protection, which, in turn, protects water quality.

“Whatever you do to the land, you do to the water,” said Bethany. “So if you want to have clean drinking water, it’s based on what you’re doing on your land. If you’re dropping fertilizer, if you’re mowing right up to the edge of a lake or stream, everything you do on your land affects the water. And that’s why we work so hard to protect the farms and forests here because that’s really what’s helping to keep the water clean.”

Two numbers from our conversation really stuck with me: seven and 15 million. Seven is the number of Conservancy employees, and 15 million is the number of people who rely on clean water from the Upper Delaware River region, which is the area the Conservancy works within.

Seven people helping to preserve water quality for 15 million people.


Fifteen million.

Of course, the Conservancy is not alone. There are other organizations and agencies helping to regulate water quality, but we, the consumers, trust a very small body of people to control something as essential as water. Like so many other things, a luxury of living in a first-world country is that water quality is something we don’t think about until something goes wrong. We assume it’s a given.

Which is why education is such an important part of the Conservancy’s mission: If we learn how our actions affect our water sources, if we all contribute in big and small ways to conserve and protect, then the ripple effect lessens and the ratio increases. It’s not just seven people safeguarding drinking water, it’s 100, 10,000, 10 million.

Want to take the first step in protecting local water sources? Bethany and Jason directed me to Clear Choices Clean Water, where you can learn easy ways to conserve water and take a pledge to make a difference. Check it out!

We, the People. We, the Rocks.


Cairns (rock piles) mark mountain trails in Adirondack Park, NY.

It can be difficult to love rock. Bioerosion, glauconite, miogeosyncline, they aren’t words that inspire. Even cleavage becomes a sigh when it’s all slate and dust.

But build it a backbone, give it a story, and that piece of sandstone that remembers the weight of dinosaurs 150 million years ago—as well as Jenny + Sean 4eva from 2014—suddenly has meaning. We care about it. We’ll protect it.

You’re a part of the story, too.

At some point, known or unknown, you gave a piece of yourself to the wilderness and never asked for it back. While walking through the woods, an elm branch brushed your arm and suddenly a piece of you went missing. You were watching the sun set on your friend’s rooftop, a beer in one hand and your uncertain future in the other, and a part of you flew away and painted itself into the sky. Once, when you stepped into a ray of sunlight, you felt lighter than you did just moments ago.

Empathy is easiest through a window. Backyards, sidewalks, neighborhood pines. It’s easier to care when we see it, when it’s our own lawns turning brown and brittle in the summer drought. We take care of us and our own. The mountains will be there when we want them, when we have time for them.


Like everything, rock changes, too. Foundations crumble, canyon walls erode, entire tectonic plates shift. They symbolize what many think of nature as—everlasting and enduring, changing slowly and naturally over the course of time. But that isn’t true. Not always. Not anymore. Nature lasts because we think it’s valuable and because we’re willing to fight for it. It survives because we protect it.

In 2017, change in the outdoors seems quicker than ever. There are no guarantees on what will survive the year.  It’s happening across America. You can’t see it all from your window.

This blog is a place to give a voice to the American wilderness and the people who support it. As journalist Katherine Boo wrote:

“I don’t try to fool myself that the stories of individuals are themselves arguments. I just believe that better arguments, maybe even better policies, get formulated when we know more about ordinary lives.”

This is our land, and these are its stories.