Signs serve a very useful purpose for wildlife managers, whose work often involves managing the actions and activities of people as much as managing wildlife. Here at Middle Creek, we attract and hold a diverse array of wildlife, some species in large numbers. That means we also attract plenty of human visitors. That's good, too. We want people to enjoy wildlife. The key though is to strike a balance between the wants of people and the needs of wildlife.
Here at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, we are not only man-aging for waterfowl, we also conduct a controlled waterfowl hunting program and need to manage a large and diverse group of non-hunting visitors. They range from hikers, walkers and cyclists to anglers — including ice fishermen, birdwatchers and nature photographers. To ensure recreational opportunities while fulfilling our goal to help waterfowl in eastern Pennsylvania and the Atlantic Flyway, the agency, from the outset of this project area, established several different land-use designations:
State Game Lands
The Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area is part of State Game Lands 46. Most of the 6,254 acres on this game lands is designated for use like any other, open to lawful use, but statewide game land regulations apply. Those regulations, if you're not familiar with them, can be found in the Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, or in Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Code on the agency's website. About 1,500 acres of this game lands have been designated as a wildlife management area, with three different land-use designations. The borders of these areas are made more noticeable with signs. No-access and limited-access areas are cordoned off with wire to reinforce their no-entry message. Signs state their public notices clearly.
These areas comprise 756 acres, including most of the main lake and other bodies of water. They are posted prominently and surround by a single strand of wire. No entry is permitted on propagation areas at any time. These completely undisturbed areas are what make this place so attractive to waterfowl. One "prop" area also holds the nest tree of the resident pair of bald eagles.
Controlled Hunting Areas
Entry to this area is by permit only. Permits are issued only for hunting in the goose blinds. There is a popular wildlife-viewing drive, the "tour road," on a corridor between the controlled hunting area and the propagation area. This road is closed to all use or entry by regulation from mid-September until March 1, except by permit. There is an obvious need to keep the general public out of the area while hunting is ongoing, not so much from a public safety stand-point, but to avoid interference with the hunt. Also, when hunting seasons end, the area is heavily utilized by migratory waterfowl.
Self-Guided Driving Tour
The self-guided "driving tour" is a popular attraction to visitors. But if you're coming to Middle Creek to see waterfowl before March 1, or right after a heavy March snow, you're going to encounter gated entries to the tour route. Knowing when the tour roads open, and that snow may impact your chance to take the "driving tour," it's best to schedule your trip on or after March 1, and to check with the Visitors Center about road access after snowfalls in the area. The Visitors Center, which is closed Mondays, can be reached at 717-733-1512.
Public Recreation Areas
These are areas where public use is encouraged. Unusual for a game lands, three picnic areas are maintained, including trash receptacles and toilet facilities during the warmer months. There is a boat ramp; the lower 40 acres of the main lake are accessible with some restrictions and a seasonal closure to boats. The area also surrounds the Visitors Center, the focal point of agency educational efforts.
If you have visited Middle Creek to witness the spectacle of the late winter waterfowl migration, you know how many birds use this place, and you also may have noticed how many human visitors we get. We believe we can handle both crowds, but lines need to be drawn: some areas of necessity must be "off limits." There is no doubt that migratory waterfowl is susceptible to human disturbance; mere human presence can be a problem for these birds.
Aside from good habitat, it is that some areas are off-limits to public entry that enables Middle Creek to attract and hold a diverse array and an abundant amount of wildlife. If there were no restrictions on access, the wildlife people come to see and enjoy would not be here, it would be driven off. It is sometimes necessary to protect wildlife from the people who love it, lest some through ignorance "love it to death." Restricted access areas, and the signs that delineate them, help us keep both wildlife and people happy.
Please enjoy your visit to Middle Creek. Signage is literally everywhere to help you steer clear of places you should not be. If you're not sure about access to a particular area or road, just head over to the Visitors Center and get clarification. You're never more than five minutes away by car from getting an answer that will ensure your visit remains a pleasant one and that you don't disturb wildlife unnecessarily.