Can nature nurture economic development here in the Lehigh Valley?

It's a question being studied right now.

"This is a wonderful natural resource, right in our backyard. It's cleaner than has been in 175 years," Wildlands Conservancy Head Chris Kocher said, while riding a canoe on the Lehigh River.

Educating people on the value of clean waterways is his goal during the three-day educational environmental experience that is the Lehigh River Sojourn, now in its 18th year.

"River really returning to the lifeblood of our community. More from an environmental and recreation perspective than from a historical transportation perspective," Kocher said.

For Jerry McAward who owns a Lehigh River rafting company, a healthy river has been the lifeblood of his business.

"We talk about bald eagles, osprey. That has been a draw that the pristine nature of this former industrial wasteland," he explained.

Is there a real economic value, with having clean waterways? It's just one of several questions the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission is studying while the area continues to grow.

Planning Commission Head Becky Bradley says the goal of the 25-question study is to put a quantifiable financial value on the natural environment.

"What it means to have a relationship with the natural environment and the built environment. All that together makes up the quality of life which affects everyone's finances," Bradley explained.

It's no secret the Lehigh Valley is changing. Bradley says truck warehouses now dominate new development.

The study will look to find the value of open space, parkland and area tree canopy--which comprise questions asked Bradley by politicians, private businesses and area residents.

"We don't know what answers we are going to find but definitely are looking to answer all the questions people have given us," she added.

For Kocher and the rest on the river, the answer is easy to see.