In his first volume of “Solebury Township, from beginning 500,000 BC to the beginning of the calamitous 20th century,” the late Ned Harrington drew on an earlier history, by John Richardson.
“He considered the rolling terrain, cut by lovely streams, such as PaunacussingCreek, Cuttalossa Creek, Rabbit Run, Ingham Creek and Pidcock,” Harrington wrote, adding Coppernose Run, Lahaska Creek, Primrose Creek, Aquetong Creek and Dark Hollow Run.
“The most ancient part of Solebury Township is the limestone belt,” Harrington wrote, “about a mile wide from Lahaska through Aquetong, the area of Solebury Friends Meeting and the Solebury School, narrowing toward the Delaware River at Limeport. It resulted from deposits of the skeletons of primitive calcareous sea creatures, over millions of years, in the Cambrian era.”
Later, as continents drifted together, the Appalachian Mountains formed, then eroded, creating creek valleys. And volcanic ridges of diabase rock pushed up at Bowman’s Hill, Solebury Mountain and Plumstead Hill. A band of red Lockatong shale joins sandstone shale along Paunacussing Creek at Lumberville.
“Thus, Solebury Township has a geologic appearance of stripes, from southwest to northeast, formed during succeeding eras. Originally, the limestone belt was entirely covered by later formations, but its upper level has been exposed by ongoing erosion,” Harrington said.
The limestone belt is a critical attribute of the Primrose Creek Watershed. It is the reason for the formation of an association that has realized its limitations and struggled to make its mission clear.
In the Colonial period, Primrose Creek was a vigorous stream that powered Phillips Mill. Today, 800 households in the vicinity of the Primrose Creek watershed depend on well water from the underlying aquifer as the sole source of water for their homes, according to the watershed website.
This year the Primrose Creek Watershed Association (PCWA) marked its 10th anniversary. To celebrate, the group held its annual meeting at the Phillips’ Mill Inn.
Over wine and hors d’oeuvre members reviewed the past decade and their successful campaign to preserve the flow of Primrose Creek, which has been pumped for decades by the New Hope Crushed Stone quarry on Phillips Mill Road in its cleaning operation.
The creek has its origins in multiple springs near Upper York Road (Route 263) and Solebury Village. It meanders past Solebury School and the quarry to Magill’s Hill and St. Philips Church, behind Phillips’ Mill, and some houses through a culvert at the Delaware Canal and eventually flowing into the Delaware River.
More than 10 years ago, residents were complaining about the quarry’s pumping water from the creek. The pumping, they believed, was affecting their water supply. Solebury School was reporting sinkholes of significant size, suddenly appearing and possibly endangering students on the Phillips Mill Road campus.
Around that time, local residents Kevin Morrissey, Larry Hamp and John Winterbottom knew that something had to be done to protect the creek and the land around it. They founded the Primrose Creek Watershed Association.
PCWA and PennFuture contested PaDEP’s issuance of a permit revision in 2011 allowing New Hope Crushed Stone to dig to a deeper level at its quarry. In 2010, PaDEP had placed Primrose Creek on the state’s official list of impaired waters, identifying the quarrying operations as one cause of some of the listed impairments. That appeal led to a consent decree with deadlines on the restoration and maintenance of the creek.
After DEP backtracking and quarry counter-appeals, that original appeal led eventually to the closing of the quarry operation.
The decree cited sinkholes, stream channels, cleaning and maintaining culverts and water quality monitoring.
Kevin Morrissey, then president of PCWA, stated: “This is a significant step for the New Hope/Solebury community toward returning a historical, cultural and environmentally significant area to natural sustainability.
Hope Blaythorne, one of the original PCWA members, took over as president at the recent meeting.
“It took a village,” Blaythorne said after the meeting. “We started working with Solebury School.” The group needed cooperation from the school, Solebury Township and the community and it worked to get all of the groups working together.
They found volunteers to monitor the creek and stabilize stream banks ; they engaged Dennis Mankin, a lawyer and former supervisor, to guide them through formation of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization; they acquired a state Growing Greener grant to plant trees along stream banks.
The association enlisted Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to help clean up Magill Hill and Canal parks. Solebury School science students did regular water testing and New Hope-Solebury high school and middle school students have been studying the life in the creek.
Behind all of the work to improve the creek and its watershed, the question of the quarry remained through court cases Department of Environmental Protection approvals and bottlenecks. But the association continued its efforts to end pumping water from the creek.
In the end DEP ordered the quarry to cease mining operations. Now in the reclamation process, which is expected to be completed March 28, the creek should be prepared to return to a natural state.
The association initiates drone runs over the quarry each month to see what is behind the woods and berms that protect it from view. The view is of a turquoise lake, like a Caribbean shore – it’s a huge hole that will fill higher with water as pumping ends.
Peter Grover, a member of the association’s quarry committee, who lives on a farm the creek crosses, has been looking into the future. The quarry, about 200 acres in Solebury Township, will remain private property. The association is considering what the land will be like in five years. Will there be houses? Will the lake be protected? What will it look like? And there’s plenty of silt built up behind Phillips’ Mill that should be removed.
“Our mission is advocacy for the water,” Blaythorne said. “We can’t dictate what the owner does.”
But the watershed association can monitor and observe. So far, it’s done a thorough job.