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Pennsylvania River Islands: A Unique Conservation and Recreational Opportunity

June 12, 2019 12:00 AM

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Have you ever driven over a bridge or paddled down a Pennsylvania river and stared at the islands...wondering what's on them, or even who owns them? Did you ever wish that you could explore them?

Many people are unaware that DCNR's Bureau of Forestry manages numerous river islands for conservation and public use along the:

  • Susquehanna River
  • Juniata River
  • Clarion River
  • Pine Creek
  • Sinnemahoning Creek

The bureau works with local partners to enhance opportunities for citizens on river islands, which can be integral stops along designated water trails for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts.

Local partners monitor the islands and help with everything from litter removal to funding water trail maps.

River Islands Are Important Conservation Areas

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Rudbeckia and silver maples in background

Given their position at the aquatic-terrestrial interface and fluctuating water levels, river islands require hardy plant inhabitants.

These species must be able to tolerate rushing waters and periods of inundation, as well as dry times when waters recede. Tree and plant species meeting these criteria include:

  • Silver maple
  • River birch
  • Willows
  • Alders
  • Swamp rose mallow
  • Rudbeckia species

River islands also naturally attract wildlife, especially wading birds, ducks, and birds of prey.

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Great egret spotted at river island

A trip to any river island in the commonwealth could afford the sightseer views of:

  • Egrets and herons
  • Mergansers, wood ducks, and mallards
  • Ospreys and bald eagles

In addition, river islands provide homes for numerous reptiles and amphibians like:

  • Map and snapping turtles
  • Garter and water snakes
  • Spring peeper and leopard frogs

Little Tinicum Island along the Delaware River in William Penn State Forest is one of the few tidal mud flats in Pennsylvania and is a known heron rookery.

Little Tinicum Island Natural Area

The island also offers a:

  • Wildlife viewing area
  • Developed hiking trail
  • Primitive camping area

River Islands Are Great for Recreation

​If you’re looking for a wilderness experience that blends aquatic pursuits with the potential for camping and sightseeing, you should strongly consider visiting a DCNR-managed river island.

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Kayaks along a Juniata River Island

Using river islands as “stepping stones” also allows access to awesome fishing opportunities.

Because many river islands are so remotely located, fishing pressure can be light. Anglers report abundant fish populations, more hook-ups, and larger fish overall. Common species that fishermen target include:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Catfish
  • Trout

Find a River Island in Weiser Forest District

Weiser State Forest boasts an incredible 1,300+ acres of river islands for the public to use and enjoy.

More than 20 river island campsites are found along the 51-mile Susquehanna River Trail between Sunbury and Harrisburg. Campers are permitted to stay two consecutive nights at a site without registering for a permit.

River Island Safety

If you plan to visit a river island by canoe, kayak, or small boat; be sure to follow safety guidelines and always wear a PFD (personal flotation device) while on the water.

Ask the local state forest district or recreation forester for pointers, and be sure to leave an itinerary with family or friends.

State forest district contact information can be found at DCNR's website.

If available, obtain and become familiar with the water trail map. It is also wise to check water conditions before embarking on your float.

One can get a feel for safe flow conditions by comparing values often identified on water trail maps with USGS data. Additional information about staying safe while boating is available at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website.

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