BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – There are parks where recreation is performed amidst nature. And there are other parks where nature is the recreation.
Rustic Quittie Creek Nature Park in Annville is more the latter than the former.
Or put another way: Quittie Creek Nature Park doesn’t necessarily have a stream running through it. It’s a park that is built around a stream.
Quittie Creek Nature Park sprang up 25 years ago around the Quittapahilla Creek, which runs through the entire width of Lebanon County. At this particular point of it, The Quitty splits the townships of Annville and South Annville, from Spruce Street to Bachman Road.
“I don’t think there’s very many parks with streams running through them,” said Mike Schroeder, a member of the Quitty Creek Nature Park committee and a co-president of the Friends of Old Annville. “Most stream frontage is private. There’s more land. We could have a bigger park. The township has land that could be part of the park, but we’re limited by the number of people who could work on it.
The 34 acres of beauty that is now Quitty Creek Nature Park was literally transformed from garbage. Before it became a park in 1989, the area was used as a dumping ground for cement.
“It was founded in 1989, in the consequence of it being an abandoned quarry that was becoming a dump,” said Schroeder. “It was like an industrial zone. It was abandoned after World War II.
“How has the park changed over the years?,” Schroeder continued. “Ask me that question in six months. My answer will be totally different. The stream is going to be changed entirely. It’s become slightly more tame. It used to be a tangled thicket of unmanageable forest, but it has become slightly less weedy. But it needs more attention.”
For a time of about 80 years, from the 1860s to 1940, a water-powered mill was operated on the grounds that are now Quitty Creek Nature Park. The area was also home to the quarry, a lime hill and lime kilns.
“People can swim,” said Schroeder. “They hike. Observe wildlife. Observe nature. Read. Relax. What I like is its a refuse. It’s a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the world. My favorite part is being reminded of the power and beauty of nature when I see the flowing water. It’s always there, but it’s constantly changing.
“This park is important because humans in the 21st century need to be reminded of the well-spring of their existence, which is the natural world,” Schroeder continued. “It’s just a treasure. This is the legacy and inheritance that should be passed on to generations.”
Quitty Creek Nature Park is made up of mostly walking trails along the creek, snaking through sometimes thick overgrowth. Also on the grounds are multiple picnic tables, benches, birdhouses, giant oaks, two ponds and the Raymond J. Swingholm footbridge which connects the two townships.
“Physical activity is what human beings do,” said Schroeder. “Without motion there is death. Humans need to be active. You have to move around, for those of us who are able.
“I think we have gotten away from physical activity,” added Schroeder. “The levels of obesity have continued to climb. When I look at the historic sites in Lebanon County, these guys cleared an acre a day by hand. That’s the kind of labor that we don’t have now. It’s possible now to get by without any physical exertion.”
But while Quitty Creek Nature Park may be Annville’s hidden gem, there are those across Lebanon County who don’t even know where it is – or that it exists at all.
“I’m not sure most people know about it, or have visited it,” said Schroeder. “It’s probably mostly ignored. I don’t think most people are drawn to flowing water. But I think there are some people who see it as something positive. It’s a refuge.
“Over the course of a year, I’d say several thousands visit the park,” continued Schroeder. “That’s a conservative estimate. I always see people down there. People just kind of find it. Of course I want to see it be used. That’s what it’s there for, public enjoyment.”
The land on which Quitty Creek Nature Park is situated is owned by Annville township. The township allocates a total of $500 per year for its entire recreation department’s budget.
“We have no money,” said Schroeder. “We need more help to maintain the nature park. Ultimately, yeah labor is more important than money. Money can’t buy labor. Money is always welcome, but we need more help. It’s not maintained through money. It’s maintained by labor. The money would have to come from the township.
“Yes there are several things I’d like to see done at the park,” continued Schroeder. “I made a new sign for the entrance, a welcome, a history, a map, just to orient people. We need a lot of forest work. We need to get rid of the weeds. We need to manage the forest better. Just clearing out the brush and making new paths. Two years ago we acquired 11 new acres, and we still need to build new trails there.
“I’m excited for the future of the park. We have been awarded $500,000 from two grants for stream bank restoration. It’s going to improve in-stream habitat, fishing, recreation. I think the future is bright. But we need people to jump in. A couple hours a month is all we’re talking about.”