Alex and Lillian Kurmes PARADISE CREEK NATURE PRESERVE – “Where the Paradise Begins”
Monuments to Nature in the Devils Hole . . . A Precious Piece of Paradise Preserved
If one takes just a few short minutes and looks deeper into the landscape of the Poconos that surrounds us as we engage in the comings and goings of our daily lives, there are “monuments to the forces of nature” everywhere we look. Shaped by wind and water and fire and ice, our landscape is alive with stories to tell of the geologic history and earth-building cycles that have shaped the land beneath our feet and before our eyes.
Delaware Water Gap, Big Pocono, Appalachian Blue Ridge, the Pocono Escarpment separating the tabletop plateaus and tannic flowing waters of Tobyhanna Creek west to the Lehigh and the swifter glacier-influenced deep cut water courses of the Brodhead Creek plummeting south and east to the Delaware – all bear witness to the violent geology that has shaped our Pocono past and still significantly influences how we build our Pocono future.
Monuments to these forces of nature that have in passing sculpted every inch of our Pocono landscape lie hidden everywhere before us under blankets of forests, fields, centuries of human endeavors and now in this winter season – a snowy blanket of white. This is the prime season to explore these outdoor landscapes for the best views of nature’s handiwork. The “fortunes of seasons” in our corner of northeastern Pennsylvania that brings an annual autumn leaf drop followed inevitably by a blanket of winter white throws open wide the viewing doors to these fantastic natural viewsheds and invites us to explore deeper into our unique natural landscapes.
In Monroe County’s Paradise Valley, the Devils Hole region is a beautiful nature landscape to explore that harbors many secrets of the past and glimpses into the forces of nature. Devils Hole Creek and Falls, Paradise Creek and Falls, Tank Creek and Falls, Mill Creek and Falls, Rattlesnake Creek and Falls all surrounding and linked by Seven Pines Mountain and State Gamelands #221 are many locally known natural features that have lured summer visitors and winter explorers for over a century to this mountainous landscape.
In the heart of Devils Hole area of Paradise Township lies the Alex and Lillian Kurmes Paradise Creek Nature Preserve, over 400 acres of protected open space land acquired by Pocono Heritage Land Trust in 2006 as part of the Monroe County Open Space Program. With funding from Monroe County Open Space Bond, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Kurmes/van Dam Family, Pocono Heritage Land Trust and numerous local community groups and private individual donors this nature preserve is dedicated to Alex and Lillian Kurmes and their family who owned and preserved this property for much of the 20th century.
Where the Paradise begins . . . small monuments pay tribute to conservation and land protection
Tumbling down off the Pocono Escarpment from Mt. Pocono and Pocono Farms East two small freestone high gradient mountain streams - Tank Creek and Yankee Run - converge in the heart of the Kurmes Preserve to form the famous Paradise Creek. Like many other city dwellers who traveled to the Poconos to leave city life behind and bask in the beauty of a wild landscape, it was here where the Paradise begins that Alex and Lillian Kurmes were drawn to leave their mark on the Poconos.
After many summer excursions to the Poconos, it was during a sudden illness that hospitalized Lillian and required an extended recovery period, which allowed Alex to begin exploring options for purchasing a “Pocono place of their own”. That place was a 400 acre piece of wild undeveloped Paradise forest bounded to the north by the famous Phoebe Snow line of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, to the east and south by the Devils Hole Creek and Seven Pine Mountain and to the west by the “Knob” overlook in Mt. Pocono. This summer vacation spot became the Kurmes family’s home base for exploring the surrounding Pocono area. Just downstream from where the Paradise begins in a small hemlock-lined glen at the base of a gurgling red shale water flume, Alex and Lillian built a small wooden cabin with a large hand laid creek stone fireplace. This became their summer residence for “adventuring in the Poconos” and the only structure ever to grace this sylvan hideaway in Paradise. This little cabin and its fireplace still stand and have been used annually for over 50 years by the Poplar Swamp Hunting Club for two weeks of deer hunting each year.
The First Small Monument . . . a convenient glacial boulder
“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” Shakespeare
Just off Devils Hole Road is a public access parking area and information kiosk for this PHLT nature preserve. A short walk from this parking area/kiosk is the first of the two small monuments that pay homage to the conservation efforts of the Kurmes/van Dam family. To the left of the kiosk and just a short distance down the Lower Tank Creek Trail lies a large glacial rounded and dropped boulder. This boulder is graced with a vanDam family favorite inscription above that appears as a plague placed by Debbi van Dam and her family in honor of her parents. The Shakespeare quote is followed by a tribute to Debbi’s parents “This land is dedicated to the Kurmes family, who owned and cherished it for many years.”
A Precious Piece of Paradise . . . preserved
A brief history “side story” is needed here to “paint the background” and/or “build the backbone” on which many recent Pocono land protection and conservation projects are predicated. This story starts, as is most often the case, with a “willing seller” who wants to leave a conservation and “public” legacy behind for all to enjoy. As a neighbor to this property, in 1996, I received a phone call from The Nature Conservancy’s Bud Cook, a TNC Senior Project Manager, asking me for information on this property and inquiring whether I would do a property review for its potential protection. Over two previous decades from1976 to 1996 I had become familiar with this tract of land and had on occasion corresponded with Debbi van Dam (Alex and Lillain’s daughter) regarding property management and access concerns. The van Dam family was exploring options for protecting/preserving this property and looked to The Nature Conservancy and subsequently Pocono Heritage Land Trust for advice and assistance. With land preservation in mind, but needing to also cover increasing county taxes and ownership and management costs, options for subdivision to “develop some to protect the rest” where explored.
About this time with early conversations in the works for a “County funded open space program” and its potential for land protection, our TNC/PHLT advice was to wait if possible before deciding to divide the property into two parcels of 300 and 100 acres where it was physically split by Rt. 940 from Mt. Pocono to Paradise Valley. This would protect a larger 300 acre portion of the property including Tank Creek and Yankee Run headwaters and the Paradise Creek confluence while opening up the Phoebe Snow Road 100 acre side of the property to potential residential development. Fortunately the van Dam family chose to wait and wait they did for nearly ten years. In 1999, with much effort by TNC and a local “Open Space” citizens committee, a 10 year $25 million Open Space land protection bond was voter approved and by 2002 for the first time in Monroe County’s history a publicly funded land protection program was begun. In 2006, after 10 years of waiting, a year of fund raising for matching funds and a generous “bargain sale” donation by the van Dam family, this beautiful and unique 400 acre “precious piece of Paradise” was preserved as public access open space owned and managed by Pocono Heritage Land Trust.
The Second Small Monument . . . a murmering stream and whispering evergreens
In a quieter corner of the Preserve within a stone’s throw of the Paradise tucked among some towering conifers is the second small monument in remembrance of Alex and Lillian.
“It is here, where the hope for ‘forever’ music from the stream’s song tumbling over a bed of water rounded rocks and the whisper of wind through the overhead boughs can be heard, that one should like to rest.”
In the cool shade and moist air of this streamside grove four small upright stones anchored in the earthy loam of the evergreen forest floor mark the corners of a small cemetery plot. Inside the marked corners are two simple small headstones mark the final resting spots for Alex and Lillian Kurmes. This is the place they chose, a sylvan retreat now surrounded by a permanently protected forested and stream-laced landscape, a preserve where the Paradise begins . . . to remain for eternity.
To all who both visit here and those wild plants and wild animals that call this Kurmes Paradise Creek Nature Preserve home, these two small stone monuments pay tribute to protecting areas where the monuments of “natural places and open spaces” and the incredible grand landscapes of the wild Poconos can be enjoyed and explored by everyone wanting to learn more the forces of nature that surround us and are the inescapable backdrop of our lives.
* For more about the ravens return to the Poconos and how to identify them, please see Don Miller’s Raven story on PHLT’s online newsletter and blog article about ravens.
* Join PHLT members and friends and local naturalist and PHLT Stewardship volunteer, Don Miller for a late winter exploration of the Kurmes Preserve. On Saturday, March 4, 2018, PHLT will host a “Raven Walk” to explore protected wild habitats in Paradise where the ravens have returned to our Pocono landscapes. Walk details available on the PHLT website at www.phlt.org .
* Fishers Are Back ~ Rick Koval’s Sunday, January 7 Pocono Record writes about the fisher’s return to the Poconos with references to the fisher habitat protected at the Kurmes Preserve and more historical information about Devil’s Hole written by Suzanne McCool for the Paradise Historical Society’s Fall 2017 Newsletter