SNYDER: The Susquehanna River flows with history


This has been an interesting month for our prized Susquehanna River.

If we're not worried about the chemicals accidentally spewing into her, we're amazed by the incredible volume of bugs hatching out of her water.

We have a great gem in our backyard, yet few folks understand just how fragile it is, or how those bugs plaguing our bridge are part of an ancient annual tradition.

The Susquehanna and the hills that surround it are some of the area's most popular recreational areas. We hunt, fish, swim, hike, boat and picnic on and around the river. But few of us truly understand the river's history. If we did, our days outside would be much more exciting and enjoyable.

One of the first things folks like to do when they visit the Susquehanna is climb on the many rock outcroppings that line its present-day shoreline.

Folks familiar with the area's history know that the river's current borders are far from where they once were. When the area's first inhabitants, the Susquehannock Indians, ruled the land during the Paleo-Indian period (13,000 to 7,500 B.C.), the river's flow was dramatically different. It didn't cut its current shoreline until less than a century ago, when the first of numerous dams were built.

Chances are, those very rocks where many of us have sat and pondered the world were scaled by some of the thousands of natives that inhabited the area long before the area was colonized.

With keen eyes, river visitors still have the opportunity to view the artwork carved into the rocks by the Susquehannocks. Unfortunately, many of the artifacts are now hidden beneath dozens of feet of flowing river water, slowly eroding from the pull of the current.

Again, unless they're history buffs, most people don't know the significant role that ever-flowing water played in the area's colonial days.

The mighty Susquehanna was once a vital delivery route for all sorts of goods. Tobacco, meat, grain, lumber and a wide variety of other important products flowed up and down the river. Many folks have heard about the system of canals and locks that made river transportation possible. But few folks have ever heard of the 75-foot Susquehanna Arks that could be seen lazily drifting down the river during the early 19th century.

Each spring, as a winter's worth of snow melted and swelled the river's boundaries, scores of sailors in New York would board large wooden boats and head south down the river.

Their flimsy craft would be loaded with a wide range of goods destined for larger ships waiting at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. It would take eight dangerous days to make the interstate journey, but the rewards were worth it. Each year, millions of dollars of goods flowed down the river.

Once at the final destinations, the products were sold, the boats were dismantled and sold as lumber, and the crew walked home. An upstream journey back to New York was out of the question.

Little-known stories such as these abound. The Susquehanna flows with history. Yet most of us pass by or over the river without thinking twice – only pondering the water when it's laden with chemicals or its bugs are getting in our way.

As true lovers of the outdoors, we are charged with the duty of understanding the river and its history.

It will make our time with Mother Nature infinitely more rewarding.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at