UPPER MOUNT BETHEL TWP., Pa. – Northampton County's plan for hundreds of acres around Minsi Lake will balance the need to protect wildlands while helping people enjoy natural beauty.
That is a tricky proposition, adding parking and playgrounds and moving some trails, while trying to protect seasonal vernal pools where amphibians breed.
The county's consulting team reviewed progress Tuesday on the Minsi Lake Corridor Greenway & Stewardship Plan, which encompasses the lake in Upper Mount Bethel Township, the nearby archery center and other natural areas.
The county wants to make the wilderness area more accessible to residents who walk, paddle boats, hunt and fish, but a four-wheeled threat lurks: all-terrain vehicles that tear up the land.
"ATV use is an issue well known in the area, not just around Minsi," Bryan Cope, county superintendent of parks and recreation, said during the virtual meeting. When Chris Strohler, senior conservation planner for the Emmaus-based Wildlands Conservancy, asked if there is any enforcement, Cope said tickets can be issued to ATV drivers.
Simone Collins Landscape Architecture of Norristown, Montgomery County, is putting the plan together, and tapping wildlife expertise from Resource Environmental Solutions (RES). The goal is to determine how outdoor recreation activities can be compatible with protecting sensitive habits, Peter Simone said.
"We are also going to be making recommendations for an interconnected trail system through these 1,100 acres," said Simone. Connecting trail networks has been a goal for Northampton County.
The Minsi Lake area is rich in wildlife, biologist Michael McGraw of RES said Tuesday.
"The gem of this space is the amphibian abundance and diversity," he said.
Early surveys have revealed 14 amphibians species, and he expects more. So far, 105 types of birds have been identified, and the land may be home to about a dozen species of mammals.
That abundance also creates a problem, McGraw said. Salamanders and frogs cross roads during the spring breeding season, and many are run over. He said of about 1,000 salamanders spotted recently, 100 had been smashed by vehicles.
Robert Glatfelter of Simone Collins said culverts below roads may be part of the solution to amphibian roadkill, along with night closings at the peak of the breeding season.
Invasive plant species are also a threat. Geoff Creary of Simone Collins singled out knotweed, an Asian plant, as a problem.
Accessibility needs to be improved at the archery venue, Creary added. The site does not meet requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The wildlands also need more parking, which Creary said is a "necessary evil."
Other suggestions include playgrounds that look natural, less mowing because cut-grass fields attract Canada geese, and more signs so people know where they are and what the park rules are.
"We're about halfway through the project schedule," Simone said. "We're scheduled to finish this project in January."
The firm will seek public comment at a meeting Sept. 22, and Simone Collins will be at Musikfest in Bethlehem and Allentown's Beer Fest to solicit ideas about the plan.
The 117-acre manmade lake was drained in 2017 for repairs to its dam. The lake was reopened last year.