Things don’t always turn out like planned! When the Army Corps of Engineers moves in to help a neighborhood, they’re only looking at how to control yearly flooding and eliminate property damage. When they set out to help the residents of one of the earliest settlements in the region along Tulpehocken Creek, there was a sense that the water feature that would result from building an earthen dam, could become a popular for outdoor recreation, as so many other areas managed by the Corps have become. What the engineers may not have realized immediately is that Blue Marsh Lake is located right along the North American flyway, with thousands of birds flying over every spring and fall. As the lakeshore developed, birdwatchers soon realized that the habitat was turning into the ideal year round nesting grounds for an impressive number of birds.
When you visit in any of the seasons, you’ll find a different group of birds. In spring, you can see a large number of songbirds, migrating along the flyway, along with loons, water fowl and gulls floating on the lake in early spring. Summer brings a variety of East Coast birds, including flycatchers, thrush, bluebirds, orioles, and meadowlarks. In fall, you’ll find hawks, bald eagles, ospreys and other raptors in the sky and ducks, geese and loons lounging on the water. You can see more of these majestic flight machines at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Many of those songbirds you saw in the spring are now going back the other direction, to warmer winter quarters. In winter, gulls and waterfowl are still about, when the water is not frozen.
The 7,000 acres of PA State Game Land 280, about a third of it covered by forest and woodlands, make it even more of a magnet for wildlife. You’ll find the best viewing along the 23 mile Inner Loop Trail and the 30 mile Outer Loop Trail surrounding the 1,147 acre lake. Other trails crisscross the property, threading through the wooded areas. Many of the ranger led programs that occur throughout the year focus on birds and birding, including regularly scheduled Bird Walks, Bluebird Day, and Celebrate Earth Day Bird Walk. There was a day use charge at Blue Marsh Lake, which has been eliminated as the Corps of Engineers now makes the facility completely free and open to everyone. Think completely outside the box about visiting in winter. Blue Marsh provides cross country outings and they even provide participants with skis for the trek!