[The following remarks were delivered by Pike County Historian George J. Fluhr at the 2005 at reception for NPS Director Mainella at the Inn at Lackawaxen on July 23.]
Whats Special About This Place
By GEORGE J. FLUHR
Whats special about this place? We are in the Upper Delaware Corridor. And the history of the counties, towns and townships that are part of this corridor is extensive. More than a dozen American Presidents have ties to the area. Glassware from White Mills in Wayne County has graced the tables of several of our Presidents. Lincolns blood stains the American flag at the Historical Society in Milford. Famous writers have lived and worked here. Among them are Zane Grey, Stephen Crane, Ned Buntline, and Charles Saunders Peirce, Grey Towers near Milford, is the birthplace of the American conservation movement. Honesdale is the birthplace of the American Railroad. Here Dan Beard founded a Boy Scout Camp, Horace Greeley started a commune, and an Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution is buried here. Here John Roebling studied river currents and designed three Delaware River Bridges, before he constructed the Brooklyn Bridge. Here movies were made, beer was brewed, and stone was quarried for the sidewalks of New York. The discoverer of the North Pole, was it Cooke or Peary? Both have ties to this region. And local archeological finds date back over 4,000 years.
The center piece of it all is the Delaware River. It was first traversed by canoes, then plied by Durham Boats carrying supplies, then ridden by lumber rafters. In the nineteenth century the river was bounded on one side by the Delaware and Hudson Canal running from Honesdale to the Hudson River and on the other by the Erie Railroad, Thus, down the river valley, was transported the lumber and coal which built the cities of America.
Two hundred years ago the land along the Upper Delaware had just emerged from a generation, suffering through the French & Indian War, the Pennsylvania-Connecticut War, the New York-New Jersey War and the American Revolution. By 1800 there were Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans from a dozen countries living along the river.
One hundred years ago, a brochure read The famous one hundred miles of beauty" from Port Jervis to Deposit is of special interest to summer-home seekers, for several reasons: The healthful atmosphere, the pure water, the calm of the lovely valley, the gentle music of the flowing river, the inspiration of the overhanging hills, the unspeakable change of it all from the conditions of city life, appeal to thousands; while for those who for fishing, boating and canoeing are particularly partial to the neighborhood of a river, there are many points which are ideal And tens of thousands of New Yorkers came here to vacation.
The river was crossed in a dozen places by ferries, then bridges, and of course is now followed by Scenic By-way Route 97. The Delaware River, with the canal and railroad, was the lifeblood of not only this area but of industrial United States of the nineteenth century.
For generations the Upper Delaware has been loved, appreciated, and taken care of by those who have lived along it.
We began by asking what is special about this place. In addition to the history, the beauty of the mountains, the purity of the water, the fish, the eagles, the deer and the bears there is another very special thing about this valley. It is special because many people, over many years found a special way that the governments - federal, state, and local could work together with property owners and citizen groups to preserve the river and the land along it.
The people of the Upper Delaware have long had a tradition of being protective of private property rights. A family that has held land a long time has a special relationship to that land. Indeed, not only hunters and fishermen, but also those who would hike in the woods, or explore historic or scenic spots are still well advised to first ask permission of the property owner.
In 1968 the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act frightened many local people into thinking that the river valley would be condemned and confiscated. The wake of the extensive confiscation on the middle Delaware for the Tocks Island project had left a powerful emotional legacy of fear of the Park Service.
The 1978 designation of the Upper Delaware as a National Scenic and Recreational River was seen as the first step in a federal land grab on the Upper Delaware. But at the same time many residents and local government officials were concerned about the intense unpoliced use of the river by canoeists, as well as the long-range potential for construction of dams and environmentally objectionable industry along the banks. The question was asked, Would it be possible to protect the Upper Delaware without confiscation?
The NPS Carroll Report clearly summarized the situation, saying that the federal presence was the subject of prolonged and highly publicized conflict which came eventually to pit a segment of Valley residents against the NPS, their Congressional representatives, as well as some of their own political leaders and neighbors.
Then the people of the Upper Delaware found a better way, a way that would make this area very special in the annals of government.
The Upper Delaware became a National Scenic and Recreational River, but the land along it did not become a national park. Rather, a unique cooperative management arrangement was made. The Upper Delaware Council, whose members include the governments and agencies which have responsibilities in the corridor, was set up as a partnership for the protection of the river, the corridor land that affects it, and the rights of the local property owners. The continuation of the private ownership of land was guaranteed by special statutory provisions, which specifically limit the amount of land that may be acquired by the Federal Government.
On the Middle Delaware, the river had been protected by creating a national park, but on the Upper Delaware, not a park, but a component of the National Park System was created. Rangers were to have jurisdiction on the river surface, not on the private land. This distinction became critically important a few years ago when a proposal to merge the Upper and Middle Delaware administrations almost re-ignited old animosities.
The results of the partnership have been impressive. Work of the Park Service in cooperation with private enterprise and citizens groups made the river safer. Funding to local government made trash collection and police patrols possible. Through the Upper Delaware Council grants became available for local governments to develop special zoning ordinances. Historical research, pamphlets, and river user guides were also funded. Boat launch areas and Eagle Watch areas were identified. Most importantly the Upper Delaware Council provided review and recommendations regarding proposed developments and commercial ventures that might impact the river. And very significantly, the Roebling Bridge closed to vehicular traffic for ten years, a topic which had been raised in almost every public meeting during those years, was reconstructed and reopened by the Park Service.
In 1989, Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall, speaking to the Upper Delaware Council in Matamoras validated the process saying This an important work that you are doing. I commend you for it, and I'm glad to be here. I suspect that what you are working on is a story that at some point the whole nation needs to hear and to understand.
The re-opening of the Roebling Aqueduct Bridge, in 1986, began the rehabilitation of the National Park Service image along the Upper Delaware. Just as the area was blessed with so many people who put in the difficult, long hours that went into developing the Management Plan, so also the area has been blessed with Park Service superintendents and their staffs who appreciated the uniqueness of the management plan.
The plan has worked now for almost twenty years. Today a booming real estate market and the feasibility of building in areas once considered unbuildable have made intense development attractive in some parts of the Corridor. But Townships and Towns are moving to strengthen zoning to further protect the land along the river. And new individual landowner preservationists have appeared. Conservancies are purchasing development rights a process which, if adequately funded, will be extremely important to the future of the river.
What is special about this place? We need only look at the logo of the Upper Delaware Council which bears the words, Partnership - Land, Water, People.
The Roebling Bridge, built in 1848 as a compromise between rafters and canalers, and rebuilt by the Park Service in 1986, stands as a symbol of the compromises between the people of the Valley and their Government to preserve the land, the water and a peoples way of life.
In so many ways, the Upper Delaware continues to be a very special place.