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Thomas Darling Preserve


Where: The Thomas Darling Preserve trailhead is outside Blakeslee, Pa., off Burger Road. At the intersection of routes 940 and 115 in Blakeslee, go north on Route 115 for one mile. Take Burger Road, on your right, to the trailhead.

GPS coordinates: 41.115573, -75.590863

Trail information: The trail is a 2.2-mile loop, blazed in blue. Not far from the trailhead, some red and white blazes are seen. The trail is rocky and can be wet. Stay on trails and boardwalks. Wear appropriate footgear, carry water, and tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.


The color of the creek water is caused by the tannins in it. 

Sphagnum moss is found in many kinds of wetlands, and is a component of peat.

How a rare protected landscape protects us

By Carol Hillestad

The trail at Thomas Darling Preserve in Blakeslee, Pa., takes you right into the thick of things, right from the start. Leaving the Burger Road trailhead, you enter a densely wooded alder swamp and soon find yourself part of another world, a relic of the glacier that receded 12,000 years ago.

On a misty, drizzly day in early fall under a low grey sky, my walk starts with mountain holly arching in from both sides, their brilliant red berries dazzling in the soft light. Like the alders, this holly likes “wet feet,” as gardeners say, and a boardwalk is the only way through. The ground is squishy with a patchwork of sphagnum moss, ferns and club mosses, among the most ancient kinds of plants. The foliage of long-gone spring wildflowers and partridge berry blankets the wet forest floor.

Following the blue blazes, I find the soil becomes less wet, the boardwalk ends, and the terrain changes. Just a few feet higher in elevation than the alder swamp, the trail here is thick with surface-running roots and glacial till. I cross old stone walls, and start to hear the sound of running water. Two Mile Run flows close by.

The air seems to chill. The creek water is cold and black, glassy as liquid obsidian; I can’t see the bottom. Downstream where the creek is shallower, the water is a deep, tannic red-brown, the color of strong tea, as it glides over the rocky bottom. It will join the Lehigh River on its meandering journey across the Pocono Plateau en route to Easton and the Delaware River.

Just ahead, I reach the heart of this quiet, old place — a single-track boardwalk in the middle of 650 acres of glacier-created wetland. The boardwalk is just inches above the trembling expanse of watery, mossy, shrubby terrain centered on 2,500 acres of protected land. Wetlands stretch out all around me, a healthy mosaic of every kind of inland wetland found in Pennsylvania, including peat bogs.

Waterlogged, acidic, nutrient- and oxygen-poor, this is prime habitat for creating peat. It happens slowly: As sphagnum moss and other plants die, sink, and partially decay, it takes several decades to build an inch of peat. Just five feet of peat takes more than 1,500 years to form.

And when it comes to keeping climate-changing CO2 out of the atmosphere, peatlands are a carbon-storage powerhouse. Covering just 3% of Earth’s land surface, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests. Preserving wetlands like this prevents huge amounts of greenhouse gases from escaping to wreak havoc.

Places like this are rare, very rare, in the world. This ecosystem protects air, water, unique plants and animals, us, and all life on the planet we call home. Like an enormous sponge that stretches to the horizon, these complex wetlands have stored, filtered, and released water for millennia, in ways we still don’t fully understand. Not to mention the spirit-lifting beauty to be found here at every season!

Alone on the trail, I feel how small I am – a tiny fleck, a mote in the eye of this ancient, ancient landscape. That flicker of fear turns to reverence when I press a palm on the bark of an old-growth pine, connecting me to the deep-rooted life here. Come see for yourself.

Carol Hillestad of Cresco is a writer and hike leader for Get Outdoors Poconos, a free hike series administered by Brodhead Watershed Association.

Comments from other hikers:

From Colleen: Wow! We hiked it the other day. …  All I can say is wow! Stunning!

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