This article appeared in today’s Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice, Scranton Times-Tribune and Hazleton Standard-Speaker.
By Bob Quarteroni
The Thomas Darling Nature Preserve guarded its secrets very, very well.
As “Great Natural Areas in Eastern Pennsylvania” says: “The trails made by deer and other animals are the only paths through this trackless preserve…Impenetrable thickets make the hiking challenging.”
Not any longer.
Thanks to the Nature Conservancy, the myriad natural wonders of this 2,500-acre preserve are now on display for all to see.
The Darling Preserve, in Tobyhanna Township near Blakeslee, is “One of Pennsylvania’s three largest undisturbed peatland ecosystems,” according to Bud Cook, director of Nature Conservancy’s Northeast Pennsylvania office. “It is also probably the state’s largest remaining native spruce forest. Snowshoe hares thrive there.”
And so much more. Perhaps the most remarkable things about this preserve is the myriad habitats it contains: a boreal conifer swamp, an acidic fen, a beaver meadow, a stream and small ponds – all of which host a staggering assortment of natural wonders.
Named after Wilkes-Barre naturalist Thomas Darling, Jr. the preserve features flowering shrubs and rare plants like bog sedge, thread rush and creeping snowberry, and animal life including black bear, eastern coyotes, snowshoe hares and beavers.
A variety of breeding birds frequent the preserve, including Canada warbler, black-billed cuckoo, scarlet tanager, barred owl, osprey, golden-crowned kinglet and dark-eyed junco.
Running through the preserve is Two Mile Run, which emerges from underground springs and seeps, feeding into Tobyhanna Creek on its way to the Lehigh River
All now on view, thanks to a 2.2-mile loop trail and boardwalk constructed under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy, which is the preserve manager, and co-owners Wildlands Conservancy and Tobyhanna Township.
The preserve is about three miles north of Blakeslee Corners off Route 115. Driving from Wilkes-Barre, take a left on Berger Road and proceed to the well-marked parking area (Coordinates 41.114700, -75.598663).
Finished in 2014, the trail was funded by DCNR through Keystone funding grants and was a prime example of cooperation between a large and diverse number of entities and individuals.
Pocono Lake resident Matt Planer earned his Eagle Scout Award for laying out the trail; AmeriCorps volunteers spent four weeks building the first boardwalk segment; a local contractor finished the boardwalk; neighboring corporation KISS Inc. enabled trail access on the northern side of the preserve; and ESSA Bank & Trust Foundation provided funds.
Girl Scout Cadet Troop 50108 from Gouldsboro/Moscow marked the trail to earn their Silver Award. And six high school students from Saul High School in Philadelphia helped finalize the trail as part of Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program.
All that hard work is evident on this beautifully blazed and easily navigable trail that allows you access to such rarities as balsam fir, thread rush, listed as “rare” by the state and bog sedge, listed as threatened, which I believe I was fortunate enough to find on my second trip there.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, magnificent displays of azalea, rhododendron, blueberry, honeysuckle and sheep, bog and mountain laurel grow in the shrub fen while in the conifer swamp are giant black spruce and tamarack as well as the balsam fir. More delights await in the mixed hardwood forest, beaver meadows and other habitats.
“Thomas Darling Preserve is one of my favorite places,” said Jennifer Case, Nature Conservancy program specialist. “I spent hours there while planning the trail and it is a magical place in every season; full of pristine wetlands and enigmatic wildlife, such as bear, coyote, bobcats, and snowshoe hare. You feel like you’ve been transported into a Canadian Boreal forest.”
The loop trail is flat and extremely well marked. However, there are wet and rocky areas to navigate so care is necessary. Nature Conservancy says, “The 2.2-mile trail takes most visitors at least two hours to complete at a steady pace. Visitors should be confident navigating rough, rocky and uneven terrain.”