APA PA Chapter News: January

The Latest News from PA Chapter of APA…

Our waterways and watersheds are fundamental elements of Pennsylvania’s natural and man-made landscapes and critical for our ongoing well-being in this age of climate change and intensifying storms. This month, we highlight the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, the River of the Year competition, Pennsylvania’s watersheds as a whole, and trails towns located within these watersheds. Two of our articles are partially or almost fully written by ChatGPT, which is both exciting and scary. Also, we highlight the benefits of joining the chapter as an emerging professional; so, if you know a new professional planner who would benefit by being a member, please invite them to join! Enjoy!

Webinar Wednesday

Webinar Wednesday is taking a break in January but stay tuned for February. If you’re interested in sponsoring a Webinar Wednesday session in 2024 or have a session for Webinar Wednesday, please contact us. Send your request to info@planningpa.org.

Planning Webcast Series

Earn over 50 CM credits each year online – at no cost to members of participating organizations that support the Planning Webcast Series. Webcasts take place live on Fridays from 1:00 – 2:30 PM ET and are worth 1.5 CM credits (for live viewing only) unless otherwise noted. More information online.

Communication and Membership Committee

The Communication & Membership Committee is looking forward to a 2024 that will bring many improvements to how we engage with our members. These include updates to the website as we plan for a rebuild in 2025, active engagement with members on LinkedIn, more interesting and relevant statewide content in your inboxes monthly, and investment in tools that allow us to work more efficiently. For example, we used an AI assistant this month for the first time; please let us know what you think of its performance!

We are always looking for volunteers to contribute articles for our monthly E-News and LinkedIn page. It’s a great way to share your work and local news with a statewide audience! Authors are credited with a by line and tagging on social media, if applicable. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Amy Evans or Amy McKinney.


The Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute will be offering courses online and in person in 2024. Please check their website for the most up to date schedule.

Opportunities for Giving

Each year the Chapter offers a scholarship to support individuals seeking funds for academic degree programs, internships, and professional development activities.  If anyone would like to contribute to the Chapter’s Scholarship fund, donations can be made here. We accept all major credit cards, or you can send a check. Please make your check payable to “PA Chapter of APA Scholarship Fund” and mail it to P.O. Box 4680, Harrisburg PA 17111.

Nurturing Nature: The Delaware River Watershed Initiative and the William Penn Foundation
By Chat GPT, with contributions by Amy Evans, AICP

The Delaware River, a vital lifeline for the Mid-Atlantic region, sustains ecosystems, communities, and economies along its winding path. Recognizing the importance of preserving this invaluable resource, the William Penn Foundation launched the visionary Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) in 2014. The DWRI represents a $100M+ effort to safeguard water quality, enhance ecosystems, and fortify the resilience of communities throughout the watershed.

Now ten years old, the DRWI is a comprehensive, collaborative effort spanning over 13,000 square miles across four states: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The initiative aims to address the myriad challenges facing the watershed, from pollution and habitat degradation to the impacts of climate change. By fostering partnerships and empowering local communities, the DWRI seeks to create a resilient and sustainable future for the Delaware River and its tributaries.

At the heart of the DRWI is a commitment to evidence-based decision-making. The initiative invests in scientific research and monitoring to better understand the watershed’s dynamics. By identifying key stressors and hotspots, the foundation and its partners can strategically direct resources toward the most critical areas for conservation.

The DRWI operates on a collaborative model, bringing together a diverse array of stakeholders, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and local communities. By fostering partnerships, the initiative taps into collective expertise and resources, amplifying the impact of conservation efforts.

Recognizing that the health of the watershed is intricately linked to the well-being of its communities, the DRWI places a strong emphasis on local engagement. Community-based projects and educational programs empower residents to become stewards of their water resources, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the Delaware River’s future.

The foundation encourages and supports innovative solutions to address complex challenges. From green infrastructure projects to sustainable land-use practices, the DRWI seeks to pioneer and promote practices that harmonize environmental conservation with the needs of a growing and evolving region.

Since its inception, the DRWI has made significant strides, demonstrating the effectiveness of a collaborative, science-based approach to watershed conservation. Through targeted investments and strategic partnerships, the initiative has improved water quality, enhanced habitat protection, and strengthened community resilience.

Throughout, the strategic flexibility of a private funder acting as the hub to many partnering spokes has been key. For one more year, the William Penn Foundation will remain committed to the ongoing success of the DRWI. By adapting to emerging challenges, incorporating new scientific findings, and continuing to engage communities, the foundation aims to create a legacy of lasting environmental health and vitality for the Delaware River Watershed.

The Delaware River Watershed Initiative stands as a testament to the power of collaborative conservation efforts by addressing current threats to the watershed while also charting a course for a more sustainable and resilient future. As the DRWI continues to evolve, its impact reverberates across the region, offering a blueprint for effective, community-driven environmental stewardship.

For additional information and program literature, visit the William Penn Foundation’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative page.

York County Trail Towns Program: An Economic Driver
By Pam Shellenberger, AICP

Trail Towns are communities adjacent to public trails that choose to embrace the trail as an opportunity for economic growth and improved quality of life. The program considers each town’s existing resources, character, local businesses, and other assets to develop a memorable and inviting trail experience for trail users, including both residents and visitors. The basic premise is that most towns already have what trail users want—food, supplies, accommodations, bathrooms, and history—and with a little tweaking, they can become welcoming places that entice trail users to visit for longer periods of time. The longer a trail user stays in town, the more money they are likely to spend in local businesses.

The concept of a “Trail Town” is not new. The idea was pioneered more than a decade ago in small, rural towns along the Great Allegheny Passage in southwestern Pennsylvania, where the program has generated at least 64 new, trail-related businesses and an estimated $50 million in annual economic impact. Today, you will find similar programs on the D&L Trail in eastern Pennsylvania and several other long-distance, multi-use trails throughout the country, including the Appalachian Trail.

The York County Economic Alliance (YCEA) launched its Trail Towns program in June 2020. This initiative is part of YCEA’s overall strategy to boost the economies of small, historic communities throughout York County, as set forth in the County’s Economic Action Plan (EAP). This Plan, developed by YCEA and the York County Planning Commission with assistance from a Steering Committee and Fourth Economy, is a component of the York County Comprehensive Plan. More specifically, the program aligns with the EAP’s “Enhance York County’s Sense of Place” theme and its Rural Economy and Quality of Place strategies. It also supports the “improve quality of life for York County residents” guiding principle in the County’s Strategic Plan.

The goal of the YCEA Trail Towns program is to use local trails as a platform for economic development by encouraging hundreds of thousands of annual trail users to venture off the trails and into our towns to patronize local businesses. An impetus to launch the program was a $300,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED). With this grant, YCEA had funding to implement Trail Town projects identified by each community to support the program.

The first phase of the program was to create five Trail Towns along the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, a 25-mile trail between the Mason Dixon Line and John Rudy County Park in East Manchester Township. York City and the Boroughs of Glen Rock, New Freedom, Railroad, and Seven Valleys were the targeted communities. YCEA, working in partnership with York County Parks, York County Rail Trail Authority, and Explore York conducted dozens of interviews, surveyed the trail-related services and assets in each community, and sketched out a Trail Towns Process that could lead to each community becoming an official “York County Trail Town.” The process is collaborative, with outreach to local governments, residents, and business owners, enabling each town to reach its potential as a vibrant hub for trail users. 

An overview of the program and the preliminary assessment findings were presented to municipal officials in each community. With their buy-in, the next step was engaging officials, residents, businesses, and other community partners to form an Action Team and conduct a “walkshop” to audit their community from the perspective of a trail user. Those findings were translated into an actionable plan to shape the future of the municipality as a Trail Town. Finally, the plan was shared with the public to seek their assistance with establishing priorities.

To further stimulate the Trail Towns Program, YCEA created the “Trail-Friendly Business” designation. This designation signifies that the business offers excellent customer service for the trail user and promotes it to potential customers. Designation includes many promotional channels, through social media and the Trail Towns website.

With the DCED grant, YCEA offered financial assistance to initiate priority projects identified by each community, such as wayfinding, promotional materials, educational workshops for businesses, and physical improvements. Additionally, YCEA awarded BLOOM Grants to a dozen businesses and nonprofits along the Heritage Rail Trail. The BLOOM grant program now includes a specific York County Trail Towns edition. This funding comes through the BLOOM Business Empowerment Center, an entity of the YCEA that works to accelerate small business ownership and success, promote Pathways to Prosperity for talent development, and advance representation in leadership and access to opportunities.

Having proven success and using the same educational and community engagement process, YCEA expanded the Trail Towns program in 2021 to include Hanover and Wrightsville Boroughs. Historic Hanover Borough is the southern terminus of the Hanover Trolley Trail. This trail, which is a work in progress, will eventually extend from Hanover to York City. Wrightsville Borough is emerging as a recreational hub at the crossroads of the Susquehanna River, Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, and Mason Dixon Trail. The River Trail is a 14-mile multi-purpose, recreation trail with easy access to Wrightsville from Columbia Borough via Veterans Memorial Bridge. The 200-mile Mason Dixon Trail for hikers connects the Appalachian Trail with the Brandywine Trail and passes directly through Wrightsville.

YCEA envisions future phases of the Trail Towns program to support additional communities along existing and future trails in the County. Spring Grove Borough, through which the Hanover Trolley Trail passes, is the next likely candidate. In the meantime, YCEA will make its educational workshops, tool kits, and other Trail Towns-related materials available to any community interested in more closely connecting their town to their trail.

The Trail Town Action Teams remain active and are beginning to see the fruits of their work. Being a Trail Town has provided a platform for focused economic development by increasing trail tourism and supporting and encouraging local businesses to provide the services and amenities desired by the many trail users who pass through their communities each year. It has also been a springboard for improving the quality of life and vitality of the communities.

Along the trails in York County, the Trail Towns and Trail-Friendly Businesses are ready to greet you. Whether a tasty snack, a unique lunch spot, or a refreshing libation is calling your name, a few moments exploring one of the seven York County Trail Towns, is time well spent. Experience the history of the railways and towns, cultural adventures, bustling businesses, and the landscape of the Susquehanna Riverlands, while enjoying modern and trendy accommodations along the way. Each Trail Town welcomes bikers, hikers, families, casual walkers, runners, and more.

2024 River of the Year Award
By Kate McMahan, AICP

Since 1983, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers have annually announced a River of the Year. The recognition aims to raise awareness of the recreational, ecological, and historical resources related to Pennsylvania’s waterways.  Each fall, nominations are submitted from local organizations interested in becoming River of the Year. The public is invited to vote for their River of the Year selection. The waterway that receives the most votes becomes the River of the Year!

The River of the Year sponsor organization receives a $10,000 grant from DCNR and technical assistance to help them celebrate their waterway. Each River of the Year winner gets a commemorative poster and organizes special activities, events, and at least one paddling trip. These events aim to raise public awareness about:

  • Stewardship needs
  • Conservation successes
  • Natural, cultural, and economic value of the waterway

The 2024 River of the Year nominees are:

  • The Lackawaxen River
  • The Allegheny River
  • The Youghiogheny River

Voting for the 2024 River of the Year is currently open and closes on January 19, 2024. Click here to cast your vote!

Pennsylvania’s Watersheds: Navigating Nature’s Tapestry
by Amy Evans, AICP and Chat GPT

The diverse landscapes of Pennsylvania are home to some of the nation’s most captivating watersheds. These intricate networks of rivers and streams not only sustain the state’s rich biodiversity but also play a vital role in shaping its cultural and economic tapestry. In this exploration, we dive into the major watersheds of Pennsylvania, uncovering fascinating facts about each and viewing vintage postcards that capture our riverside landscapes.


  1. Susquehanna River Watershed: The Keystone’s Lifeline

Stretching across almost half of Pennsylvania’s land area, the Susquehanna River Watershed reigns supreme as the Commonwealth’s largest drainage basin. Flowing for over 440 miles and comprising six major sub-basins, the Susquehanna not only provides water for millions but also serves as a crucial habitat for diverse aquatic species. The Susquehanna River Basin is one the most flood-prone areas in the nation, with major floods occurring every 20 years on average. The Susquehanna contributes half of the freshwater flow into the Chesapeake Bay, typically measuring around 18 million gallons per minute where it meets the Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland. The Susquehanna watershed includes Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County, also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Phosphorus pollution from manure, runoff, and sewage treatment has a significant effect on the Susquehanna’s contributing freshwater streams and ponds, as well as the Chesapeake Bay itself. Hydroelectric and nuclear power plants harness the river’s flow to aid in the production of electricity. Fun fact: The Susquehanna is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States and the longest river in the U.S. that is not commercially navigable. Its headwaters are in Otsego Lake, New York.

  1. Ohio River Watershed: Confluence of Beauty and Industry

Pennsylvania’s western regions are cradled by the Ohio River Watershed, a network that encompasses the mighty Ohio River and its tributaries. The Ohio River watershed is the second largest in Pennsylvania, but its land area here only accounts for one-tenth of the entire Ohio River Basin. This watershed not only fosters a stunning natural landscape but also historically served as a major artery for trade and industry. The Port of Pittsburgh is the busiest inland port in the nation and 14th busiest port in the U.S. overall. The Monongahela is a major tributary of the Ohio and ranks with the Ruhr in Germany and the Thames in the United Kingdom as one of the great industrial waterways of the world. The confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers forms the iconic Point State Park in Pittsburgh, where the Ohio River begins its journey. The Ohio River ends in Cairo, Illinois, where it meets the Mississippi River. Fun fact: The Ohio is the only watershed in Pennsylvania to drain into the Gulf of Mexico, which contributes to a considerable diversity of aquatic species. This diversity includes 49 freshwater mussel species not found elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

  1. Delaware River Watershed: An Urban Treasure

In the eastern part of the state lies the Delaware River Watershed, home to myriad ecosystems and cultural landmarks. The Delaware River watershed is home to nearly 5 million Pennsylvanians, the most of any watershed in the Commonwealth. This watershed not only supplies drinking water to urban centers like Philadelphia but also boasts globally rare freshwater tidal marshes and the nation’s first urban National Wildlife Refuge. The Delaware’s headwaters arise in the Catskill Mountains and eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean through the Delaware Bay. The famous Delaware Water Gap is a breathtaking geological formation that attracts outdoor enthusiasts with its hiking trails and stunning vistas. The Delaware River above the Water Gap is an important inland habitat for wintering bald eagles. On the other hand, the lower Delaware River is heavily industrialized, with the Delaware River Port Complex being the largest freshwater port in the world. Fun fact: The main stem of the Delaware River is the longest free-flowing, undammed river in the eastern United States. In May and June of each year, the Delaware Estuary becomes the center of one of the largest horseshoe crab spawns in the world.

  1. Potomac River Watershed: Where Pennsylvania Meets the Nation’s Capital Area

This Potomac River does not pass through Pennsylvania, but many tributaries flowing south out of the Commonwealth send waters to the Potomac through the neighboring state of Maryland. At Hancock, Maryland, the Potomac comes within two miles of the Pennsylvania border, giving it the narrowest non-vertex border-to-border distance of any U.S. state. As the Potomac itself flows southward, it becomes a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, second in volume only to the Susquehanna. Three Pennsylvania state parks lie in the watershed: Buchanan’s Birthplace, Caledonia, and Mont Alto, all in Franklin County. The Potomac River has played a crucial role in American history, serving as a transportation route during colonial times and witnessing pivotal moments during the Civil War. Fun fact: Falling Springs Branch Creek in the Cumberland Valley near Chambersburg is one of only three designated limestone wild fisheries in the Commonwealth.

  1. Great Lakes Watershed: Erie & Ontario Connections

Connecting Pennsylvania to the vastness of the Great Lakes, the Lake Erie Watershed holds both environmental and recreational significance. The lake and its tributaries support diverse ecosystems and offer recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Lake Erie is the shallowest, warmest, and most biologically productive Great Lake and is considered the best walleye fishery in the world. Presque Isle State Park, a unique natural feature near the City of Erie, boasts the only coastal beach in PA and the picturesque Presque Isle Lighthouse. Pennsylvania also captures a small portion of the Genessee River watershed in northern Potter County, the only land area in the Commonwealth that drains to Lake Ontario. Not-so-fun fact: In past decades, the pollution-driven algal blooms on the beaches of Lake Erie were so detrimental in their impacts to native fishes that they earned a mention in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

Watershed Wonder

Pennsylvania has more miles of streams than any other state except Alaska, estimated at over 86,000 miles of waterways. From the Susquehanna’s meandering path to the cultural importance of the Delaware, these watersheds underscore the interconnectedness of water and human life. Exploring each watershed not only deepens our understanding but also fosters an appreciation for the intricate web of life flowing through the Keystone State.

“You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed.

No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed.

So I’m sending them off.  Oh, they’re future is dreary.

They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary

in search of some water that isn’t so smeary.

I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”   –Seuss, The Lorax

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources’ Watershed Education site offers a variety of resources for understanding and studying streams, including a selection of watershed maps that may be printed and used for educational purposes and fact sheets for major watersheds. Fun fact: these fact sheets helped to inform this article, along with content from ChatGPT.

Elevating Emerging Professionals through PA APA Membership
By Betsy Logan, AICP

Are you new to the planning profession, a recent graduate, or interested in exploring the possibilities of becoming a planner? Navigating the intricate landscape of planning as an emerging professional is a journey marked by challenges, growth opportunities, and the pursuit of expertise. Belonging to the PA Chapter of the APA offers a stepping stone to elevating your career, without the expense of joining the National APA.

For $57 a year (for the first 5 years of membership), emerging professionals can enjoy all membership benefits, including:

  • Monthly updates on local planning news and trends
  • Reduced rates for educational classes and the annual conference
  • Mentorship and networking opportunities
  • Support and preparation in taking the AICP exam
  • Scholarship opportunities for advancing your career.
  • Resume building
  • Regional activities by local sections

Membership runs by calendar year, so consider starting 2024 as part of a new community as a catalyst for growth, learning, socializing, and propelling your career in planning.

PA Hazard Mitigation Plan
by Brian O’Leary, AICP

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has now posted its 2023 Hazard Mitigation Plan, which as approved in August of 2023. The new plan can be found online