The Bushkill Creek Watershed encompasses 80 square miles of Northampton County, stretching about 30 miles from Blue Mountain to the Delaware River in Easton. The word Bushkill is Dutch for ‘bushy’ or ‘forest creek’.
Groundwater from the wooded slopes of Blue Mountain provides a critical source of high quality water for the headwaters of the Bushkill Creek. Wetlands along the foot of the mountain also help to buffer the streams from surface runoff while providing important wildlife habitat. Most of the upper half of the basin is located in shale and slate geology, and is dominated by woodlands, agriculture, and low-density residential development. From the wooded areas flow the streams of Sobers Run, Engler Run, and Little Bushkill Creek, forming “greenways” from Blue Mountain to Jacobsburg State Park.
The lower half of the basin has a different character, consisting of gently rolling hills over limestone and dolomite. The many springs help maintain cool water temperatures throughout the summer, providing an excellent brown trout fishery. Shoeneck Creek drains the western portion of the watershed from Nazareth, and a small, unnamed tributary follows Route 22 and joins the Bushkill in Easton. Agricultural areas in the lower watershed are experiencing rapid commercial and residential development, while the southernmost area of the watershed in and around Easton has been suburban, urban and industrial for over a century. Several large cement rock quarries are located near the center of the watershed in the Nazareth and Stockertown area, and numerous abandoned dams from former water-powered mills are present along the lower 3 miles of the stream.
Monitoring of Bushkill Creek is conducted by students and faculty at Lafayette College and Muhlenberg College, students at Easton and Pen Argyl High Schools, and local citizens of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
Studies by Muhlenberg College and Lafayette College have shown that the tributary streams in the upper watershed are of much higher quality than those in the lower watershed. This is due to the differences in land uses and the increasing development in the lower watershed.
The Bushkill Creek Watershed’s diverse habitats attract a large variety of bird species; in which 246 species of birds have been seen. Many of these species are migratory, but at least 100 species of birds nest within the watershed. Hawks and eagles in the watershed are abundant along the Blue Mountain, a critical migratory route for these raptors. Many waterfowl and other water birds have been spotted at the Albert Road Ponds north of Belfast. Many of the breeding birds occur along the Blue Mountain, in the Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center, and in the vegetative greenways that connect Jacobsburg and the Blue Mountain. In winter, American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-rumped Warblers survive the winter in sheltered areas of Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center where there is an ample supply of food. Conservation of habitat and good land stewardship practices are vital in protecting the watershed’s bird life.
The lower Bushkill Creek In many places is 25 to 30 feet wide. The flow is also relatively slow. These two factors combined with high angling pressure means this can be a difficult stream to fish for trout. When casting lures, work the heavier runs, camouflage yourself by standing close to the banks and making long casts. Bait-anglers should sit quietly on the banks and cast into the deep, slow-moving pools.
Access along the stream is excellent. County parks, highway pull-offs and designated parking lots abound. Sections of Bushkill Creek are heavily fished, but it is worth fishing because its trout are plentiful. Bait, lure and fly-anglers share the action at Bushkill Creek, and there’s a 1.1-mile section for catch-and-release fishing that’s open exclusively to lure and flies.
High levels of fecal coliform bacteria were found in the Bushkill last summer which indicated the presence of sewage contamination and the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said the DEP’s regional office did not find an obvious source of the bacteria, which Bushkill Stream Conservancy members say they believe came from either fertilizer or human or animal waste.
The biological review and evaluation is still under way at the DEP’s central office in Harrisburg. DEP biologists are expected to prepare and submit a report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could recommend placing contaminated portions of the Bushkill Creek on what is known as the state’s “impaired list.”