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UDC: A quarter-century of partnership

May 1, 2013

By GEORGE FLUHR SR.

[At the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) annual awards banquet on Sunday, April 28, keynote speaker George Fluhr Sr. put the 25-year history of the UDC in the context of the history of the river valley. This is an abbreviated version of his talk.]

“Those [early] settlers…started homes and farms, built a tanning industry and wood acid factories. They opened bluestone quarries and constructed roads. They put a canal on one side of the river and a railroad on the other side, and they transported the coal and lumber that made New York the world’s most famous city. And in the process of all this, the river created jobs here and hundreds of miles from here….

Unfortunately we lost most of the trees in the process, and there was much water pollution. But in less than 100 years, amazingly, the river cleaned itself, and trees grew back. And by 1950, when hundreds of sewage pipes still ran into the river, the river continued to clean itself, and the water tested pure enough to drink. Most families then were sustained by small farms, by work on the railroad, or by tourists who liked clean water, fresh air, and beautiful scenery. With the growth of an industrial America, much of our country advocated dams for hydroelectric power… and big cities needed not just more power, but also more drinking water. During the past century over a dozen dams were advocated for the Upper Delaware.

About 50 years ago, my uncle, Thomas Fluhr, who was the chief geologist for New York City, predicted that Barryville would soon be under water. A dam was to be built about 10 miles downriver from [Lackawaxen, PA] to create a reservoir…. But about the same time an opposing factor, national support for free-flowing rivers, had begun, and the Upper Delaware was proposed for study under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

In 1969, I attended a meeting of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, at which I heard proposals to preserve a free-flowing Upper Delaware River by prohibiting dams and by purchasing, through condemnation, several miles on each side of the river for a national park…. The coming of the National Park Service to the Upper Delaware with a plan they had written in Colorado provoked local residents to verbal and even physical violence. It was a bitter and tragic time along the Upper Delaware. For almost 20 years a fragmented local leadership, which included some very fine people, struggled through disrupted meetings, bitter criticism, the loss of elections and even the loss of lifetime friends.