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Jay Paterno: Fly Fishing and Marcellus Shale

by on March 22, 2012 6:00 AM

Last Saturday, I had one of those moments in life where you say to yourself, “Now I get it.” It happened at Fisherman’s Paradise on Spring Creek. Friends of mine have been fly-fishing for years, and ever since I moved back to State College in 1995, I have been meaning to give it a try.

A few weeks ago, a friend, Mark Battaglia, invited me to come to the Penn State Legends Fly-Fishing event to benefit the ClearWater Conservancy here in State College. As I looked at the date, I had some second thoughts. I had never been fly-fishing, and I knew on March 17 it might be 20 degrees and snowing sideways.

Luckily, the day turned out to be sunny and warm, and I had a great time. No, I didn’t land any trout despite getting three or four very strong strikes on my line. It turns out setting the hook and reeling the trout in can be a little tricky. I plan to spend more time on the streams and may even luck into catching a fish. But there is more to this story.

Part of the event Saturday included instruction in casting from Joe Humphreys, a talk about tactics from Vance McCullough and a tour on the stream with Mark Belden. There was an amazing presentation on the insects in the streams from Greg Hoover. All the times I’ve waded in streams and lakes in our state parks, I was unaware of all the life around me.

Spring Creek along Fisherman’s Paradise is a beautiful place. Just downstream we saw a bald eagle’s nest and an eagle on a branch above the creek. But it was the presentation about the insects as indicators of stream water quality that stayed with me.

For those that don’t know, Spring Creek is a fantastic trout stream and it is all catch and release. As long as I can remember back to my childhood, the fish on Spring Creek have been off limits to eat because of pollutants dumped in the creek years ago. In a conversation with Mark Belden, I asked him about the stream’s waters.

Sadly, these pollutants will be in the silt of the stream bed for hundreds of years. My children will not live to see the day when they are gone.

On the drive home, my thoughts turned to the future challenges we face as it relates to the waters of this state. This state has a tremendous economic and energy resource in the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas across many, many acres of the Commonwealth.

That the resource has the ability to transform this state, there is no debate. The issues that arise are how it will transform this state. Much of the natural gas is below the ground in parts of the state that are very rural and stunningly beautiful. The resource is in parts of the state that are intersected by the many of our great rivers and streams.

The citizens of Pennsylvania must find the right path, and it has to be balanced. There has been a gold/gas rush of sorts as people have hurried in to get to it as soon as possible, particularly as the energy needs of the globe continue to expand. The rush is understandable, but keep in mind the gas isn’t going anywhere. We have time.

There is also a side that wants to shut down all extraction and fracking. The reality is that a moratorium will not happen. There is a lot of money at stake that should create a lot of jobs for citizens of our commonwealth.

What we cannot allow to happen is the devastating deforestation and pollution of the waters of the northwestern part of the state during the mid-to-late 1860s. That was the result of the planet’s first oil rush when the first well struck black gold. That scar on the state took decades to heal. At the same time, we can neither ignore nor eliminate our ability to extract a resource that will be a big solution to the energy puzzle that we face as a nation.

The best course is one that finds a way to develop the Marcellus Shale resource without destroying the land and waters that are all around us. As my sons or daughters fish the waters of Pennsylvania 30 years from now, I don’t want them to have the same conversation I had about pollutants.

As I walked away from my first career day fly-fishing I get the whole deal now. It isn’t just about catching fish. It is about a day on the stream, a day listening to the waters run past and looking up to see a rock wall in the canyons of Spring Creek.

As we look to the future of Pennsylvania, we must engage our state government. We must ensure stewardship of the land and waters while also enabling the development of the resource beneath the land.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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