Protection and Management Plan for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

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Overview of Management Goals

"The mission of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center is to educate and
inspire people about the natural world and to instill a passion for
the environment through science, history, culture and an."

The following goals and principles envision Millbrook Marsh Nature Center as a sanctuary for nature and representative cultural heritage in a quickly urbanizing context. They set the framework for management that will help ensure a perpetually flourishing and complex ecosystem, one that the people of Centre Region will come to cherish and steward as a place of discovery, learning and inspiration. And because the Nature Center’s vitality depends to a great extent on human influences beyond its boundaries, these goals and principles are proactive in calling for conservation measures throughout the watershed.

Overall Goal

To protect, restore, and enhance the biotic, abiotic, cultural and scenic values of the site, and to promote public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of this heritage. Priority will be given to the protection of the wetland and stream ecosystems.

Natural History Goal

To ensure the health and integrity of the Center’s natural aquatic and upland ecosystems by protecting, restoring, and enhancing ecological and hydrologic functions in a manner that promotes self-sustaining and diverse biotic communities.

Cultural Heritage Goal

To identify, maintain and celebrate the cultural heritage features of the Center for their inherent value, and as they reveal the long term human use and occupancy of the area.

Education and Interpretation Goal

To provide opportunities for students of all ages to explore and learn about the site’s ecosystem and its role as headwaters to the Spring Creek Watershed and the Chesapeake Basin in a manner that is experiential, participatory and respectful of the natural world. 

Recreation Goal

To accommodate ongoing and new passive recreational opportunities in Millbrook Marsh that are consistent with the above goals.

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Introduction

The purpose of this Protection and Management Plan for Millbrook Marsh is to characterize and document the current ecological conditions of the site and to propose management strategies to protect and restore the natural and cultural features of this important environmental resource for the enjoyment of the citizens of central Pennsylvania. To clearly define the scope of this Plan, we refer to the entire site as the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center - a place - not a group of buildings.

We envision the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center as a place to observe and learn about our natural and agrarian heritages in a rapidly urbanizing area. This Plan establishes the framework for management to help ensure a perpetually flourishing ecosystem, one that the people of the Centre Region will come to visit, cherish, and protect as a place of discovery, learning and inspiration. And, because the vitality of Millbrook Marsh depends to a great extent on human influences beyond its boundaries, these goals and associated principles are proactive in calling for conservation measures throughout the Spring Creek Watershed (Map 1).

The Plan represents the Final Report for this project. Originally, we envisioned a report with two parts, one addressing protection and management, the other one dealing with access and open space issues. Consequently, the specific objectives from the original proposal were:

1. To characterize the current ecological condition of the Millbrook Marsh by developing a standard monitoring protocol, compiling existing information, and conducting baseline ecological inventories for the purposes of generating a "Protection-Management Plan".

2. To develop an open space plan for Millbrook Marsh, including walking trails, boardwalks, bridges or overlooks, which preserves the natural integrity of the site and enhances the public’s access in a managed, but educational manner.

As the project progressed, it became clear that these two phases should be woven together, because they are invariably intertwined. Thus, the Plan approaches both objectives simultaneously.

First, we review the Public Review Process that was followed to gain input into and acceptance of the Plan. Next, the general Methods are summarized. This is followed by descriptions of Millbrook Marsh in its Political, Cultural, Historic, and Ecological Settings. We report on the analysis of the data gathered from the Inventories that were conducted or reviewed to help us understand the site. Then, we discuss Management Principles that influenced the evolution of our Management Zones, with related management activities and facilities. At the end of this Plan, we propose a modest Monitoring Protocol for collecting information to track the ecological condition of the site over time. We end with a summary of our Recommendations that are directed at all interested parties. References and Appendices are included after the main body of the Plan.

This Plan is intended to provide guidance for protecting and managing the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center well into the future. Thus, it should be used in conjunction with other efforts underway to protect the entire Spring Creek Watershed, in which the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center occupies a central place, both geographically and ecologically.

We hope to instill in readers of this report and in visitors of Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, a sense of place, for truly, to have such a unique habitat in our collective backyard is, at the very least, a fortunate circumstance. If you haven’t visited the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, please do so at your earliest convenience.

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Public Review Process

A condition of the contract with The ClearWater Conservancy and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was the establishment of an Oversight Committee and involvement of the public to provide periodic advice on the project as the plan developed. The Oversight Committee included representatives from interested organizations and several citizens who are neighbors of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. There were four meetings where this type of formal input occurred. On 7 July 1997 and 15 October 1997, members of the Oversight Committee were invited to attend a half-hour briefing prior to a regularly scheduled meeting of the Centre Region Parks and Recreation (CRPR) Advisory Committee (there is considerable overlap in the memberships of the two committees). Presentations, including a display of project maps and photographs, were made on both occasions. There was significant and helpful discussion during these meetings. On 24 November 1997, a publicly advertised open house to review the draft recommendations was held in the College Township Municipal Building that overlooks the Millbrook. Sessions were held from 4-6 p.m. and from 7-9 p.m. (Photo 1), and about 20 people attended. The participants provided both oral and written comments during the presentations. On 12 February 1998, a presentation was made in conjunction with the CRPR’s Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Planning Forum where regional leaders and citizens were invited to provide input to the CRPR for strategic planning.

In addition, one or more of the principal investigators made presentations or provided updates during meetings of the CRPR’s Advisory Committee and Programming Committee for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. These committees are composed of individuals representing regional, municipal, educational, academic, and conservation organizations providing a breadth of perspectives on the future of Millbrook. Information was presented to the CRPR Advisory Committee on the following dates: 7 May 1997,27 Jun 1997 (a Planning Forum for the site), 13 Aug 1997, 17 Sep 1997, 12 Nov 1997, and 14 Jan 1998. Information also was presented to the CRPR Programming Committee on the following dates: 19 Feb 1997, 2 Apr 1997, and 14 May 1997. These meetings, plus numerous contacts with resource people and citizens from the Centre Region, provided substantial and valuable input on the development of the Protection and Management Plan for the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center.

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Photo I. Public Review Process: The Project Team and the ClearWater Conservancy hosted an open house for the public at the College Township Municipal Building on 24 November 1997.

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Methods

Our methods are described only briefly here; additional details are available from the investigators upon request. Overall, we sought to compile information from prior studies, although there was no attempt to be exhaustive in that search, particularly for historic natural history data. We cite other studies in the text to acknowledge contributions from prior work. We focused collection of original data on the aquatic components of the site, primarily streams and wetlands. In regard to other natural history data, the Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center has produced an additional report in the form of a graduate paper (Lipton 1998) that will further collect, analyze, and synthesize historic and current natural history information.

Mapping and Site Investigations

We have chosen to present a significant portion of the information that was collected visually, through a series of maps, figures, and photographs. The majority of the mapping was conducted at the Land Analysis Laboratory (LAL) of the College of Agricultural Sciences, at Penn State, under the direction of Rick L. Day. Watershed and base maps were produced from databases compiled by LAL, in part, for a Centre County Inventory conducted for the Centre County Planning Office. This study included recent aerial orthophotographs and associated analysis of the natural features and land use in Centre County, which helped generate maps for the Spring Creek Watershed where Millbrook Marsh is centrally located (Map I) and the Study Area and Context map of the site and its immediate surroundings (Map 2).

A significant portion of our analyses that led to the development of Management Principles and Management Zones, and ultimately, Recommendations, were based on numerous site visits conducted from the summer of 1997 through spring 1998. Tamminga and Brooks traversed the site many times, reviewed the information collected, and discussed the options with Project Team members and others, before finalizing the Plan.

Streams Inventory

The objectives of the stream survey were: 1) to determine the composition of the macroinvertebrate community; 2) to estimate the density and biomass of trout; 3) to determine the composition of the entire fish community; and 4) to characterize stream habitat and determine stream discharge at several points within Millbrook Marsh. Work on stream biota, physical characteristics, and water quality was conducted by personnel from the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit under the direction of Dr. Robert F. Carline.

Benthic macroinvertebrates were collected from six sampling stations located in riffles along Thompson Run and Slab Cabin Run (Fig. 1). At each station, on July 22 and October 20, 1997, three Surber samples were taken across a riffle. The samples were combined to make one composite sample, fixed in 10% formalin, and returned to the laboratory. After 24 hours, samples were transferred to 80% ethanol. Preserved samples were mixed and subsampled. All organisms in a subsample were removed. If the total number removed was less than 300 individuals, then another subsample was taken. The process was repeated until 300 or more organisms were removed. Organisms were identified to genus, except for chironomids, muscids, simulids, and gastropods, which were identified to family. Oligochaetes were identified to order.

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Fig. 1.  Study Site.  Locations of macroinvertebrate sampling stations are indicated by numbers.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Rapid Bioassessment Protocol (RBP III) was used to determine the condition of the macroinvertebrate community in the streams, using the July 1997 data. The protocol consists of various biotic indices, which are integrated to produce a "Bioassessment" category (non-impaired, slightly impaired, moderately impaired, and severely impaired). Macroinvertebrate data collected from a station on Big Fishing Creek, Clinton County, PA, upstream from Lamar, were used as a reference with which to evaluate each station sampled.

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Fish were collected in three individual stream reaches. Thompson Run extended from the mouth at Slab Cabin Run, upstream to the bridge at East College Ave. Lower Slab Cabin Run extended from the bridge at Puddintown Road, upstream to the confluence with Thompson Run. Upper Slab Cabin Run extended from the confluence with Thompson Run, upstream to the bridge at East College Ave. (Fig. 1). Between 5-14 August 1997, the entire lengths of Thompson Run and Slab Cabin Run within the Marsh were sampled with a direct current backpack electrofishing unit (125v). Two passes were made. On the first pass, all trout were marked with a temporary finclip, weighed, and measured. On the second pass, at least 50 m of each reach, beginning at the downstream boundary of the reach, was resampled to estimate numbers of marked and unmarked trout. If less than 40 trout were collected in the first 50 m, electrofishing continued until 40 trout were collected or until 200 m had been resampled. Non-trout fish species were collected, identified, and counted in the first 50 m. Separate density and biomass estimates were made for trout collected from each of the three stream reaches.

Channel morphology and stream habitat variables were measured at transects set perpendicular to stream flow. Transects were established every 30 m along the entire lengths of Thompson Run and Slab Cabin Run within the Marsh. The gross habitat at each transect was characterized as riffle, glide, or pool. At each transect, stream width was measured and presence or absence of fish cover and bank condition (stable or eroding) was noted for both the left and right banks. Stream depth, the presence or absence of fish cover, and substrate type were determined at three equally-spaced instream points along each transect.

The location of all springs entering both stream was recorded as linear distance from the mouth of the stream. Stream discharge was measured in June and October 1997 at East College Ave. on Thompson Run and Slab Cabin Run, at the confluence of Bathgate Spring and the small tributary from Orchard Road, and at Puddintown Road on Slab Cabin Run.

Wetlands Inventory

The Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center (CWC) has developed a standard sampling protocol for reference wetlands (Brooks et al. 1996), and has been monitoring parts of Millbrook Marsh since 1994. Overall, the CWC has established over 65 reference wetlands in Pennsylvania, of which four reference wetland areas have been established and measured in the Marsh; Site #28 -Millbrook, Site #56 - Farm 12, Site #57 - Thompson Run, and Site #64 - State College High. Sites #56 and #57 were first studied by the CWC in 1997. The fourth site, #64, was added in May 1998 as part of the Adopt-a-Wetland Program for Pennsylvania High Schools, so data have not yet been compiled or analyzed. These sites represent different subclasses of wetland habitat according to the Hydrogeomorphic (HUM) Approach (Brinson 1993, Smith et al. 1995). The HUM classification system emphasizes landscape position and water source as classifying variables. A more widely used wetland classification system is the one used by the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) based on Cowardin et al. (1979), which focuses on water regime and vegetation type. The CWC has modified the HUM classification system for applications in Pennsylvania (Brooks et al. 1996) and uses it in combination with NWI to describe a wetland type. The most current classification key is available from the CWC, but a recent version was published in Cole et al.(1997). The CWC also classifies sites as to level of disturbance based on the condition of the vegetation, water quality, and surrounding landscape.

Monitoring followed the standard sampling protocols of the CWC (Brooks et al. 1996), which include establishment of a grid to survey relative elevations and to locate plant plots and soil pits, installation of one or more shallow wells to monitor hydrology, analysis of soil texture and organic matter, basic water chemistry analyses, and a profile of potential use of wetland wildlife habitat. In addition, CWC personnel collected data on wetland macroinvertebrates (Site #s 56 and 57) and birds (centered on Site #28, but including much of the Marsh).

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Macroinvertebrates were collected at Sites 56 (3 July 1997) and 57 (11 July 1997)(R. Bennett). Site 56, Farm 12, was sampled by sweeping an aquatic D-frame net in pools of standing water, and using a 9-cm benthic soil corer in saturated sediments. For Site 56, data from the pools consisted of 4 composited samples from 5 m x 5 m plots. Data from the saturated soil represents only one sample, as others are still being identified. In Site 57, Thompson Run, the backwater pools of the stream were sampled with the D-frame net, and the saturated sediments were sampled with the corer. For Site 57, there were 5 composited samples taken from a 130 m reach.

On to Political Setting