Gettysburg beavers create a new pond

Beavers constructing a dam near the Warren Avenue bridge at Gettysburg National Military Park have backed up Plum Run almost to the Wheatfield Road. The pond grows larger after heavy rainfalls. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Rah-rah-sis-boom-bar! The Gettysburg beavers will flood far!

If the wounded Col. Elijah Walker and the 4th Maine Infantry’s survivors had encountered spring 2022’s conditions will retreating across the Valley of Death on July 2, 1863, pursuing Confederates would have rounded up every danged Yankee. Few Union boys could have waded (maybe) or swum flooded Plum Run in time to avoid capture.

Beaver occasionally dam Plum Run at Gettysburg. (Wikipedia)

Visitors exploring Little Round Top this spring before the National Park Service closes it for the next 12-18 months are noticing Gettysburg’s newest pond: Plum Run, dammed by beavers and swollen by recent rains. The impressive pond stretches alongside Crawford Avenue, from a dam near the Warren Avenue bridge almost to the Wheatfield Road.

That is a fair distance … but there’s more!

According to Jason Martz, a Gettysburg NMP communications specialist, “there is another dam on Plum Run, south of the Slyder farm, which is accessible from the Emmitsburg Road. These craft beavers have ensured they’d have sufficient water surrounding their lodge, visible from LRT and Crawford Avenue.

And a grand beaver lodge it is! Gettysburg beavers can “lodge” with the best of Maine beavers!

I asked Martz about the Gettysburg Castor canadensis. “Beavers are native to Pennsylvania,” he responded. By the late 19th century, “uncontrolled trapping and habitat loss eliminated beavers in Pennsylvania and most eastern states. But this aquatic furbearer is back and has repopulated most of its former range.

“The presence of beavers along Plum Run is not new,” Martz stressed. “They have inhabited this space off and on for many years.”

Beavers live in a well-maintained lodge (center) that they constructed on Plum Run at Gettysburg National Military Park. (BFS)

Despite frequent visits to Gettysburg since the late 1990s, I had never noticed beaver activity along Plum Run. No beaver pond’s visible in my photos taken from LRT and along Crawford Avenue in late April 2021.

That was then. Pennsylvania, like New England, has suffered a cool and wet spring 2022, and the Gettysburg terrain was pretty saturated in places when we visited in late April. Martz confirmed that the 2022 version of Plum Run Pond (my name) was caused by the “beavers creating a dam” and “recent rain events.”

Here in Maine, beavers chew down and then chew up tasty hardwoods growing around their ponds. This culinary pursuit is particularly evident around the Beaver Pond on Ocean Drive in Acadia National Park.

But the Gettysburg beavers are only cutting down “small saplings adjacent to Plum Run,” Martz said. Few large trees grow near the stream where it flows through the Valley of Death. “In the past they [beavers] have been present for a year or two before moving on, likely as a result of exhausting their fuel supply,” he said.

The large size of the Plum Run beaver pond is noticeable from Little Round Top. Recent heavy rains enlarged the pond. (BFS)

Given its dramatic size, has Plum Run Pond caused any problems? “Natural and cultural resource management staff are currently monitoring the beaver colony and its impact on water levels in the surrounding area,” Martz noted. “No roads or monuments have been flooded.

“At the point the negative impacts are documented to the roadway or critical elements of the cultural landscape [such as the 40th New York Infantry monument near Plum Run],” then “appropriate action will be taken,” Martz told me. “Relocation of the beaver colony will be considered only as a last resort.”

A beaver dam (left center) backs up Plum Run in the Valey of Death at Gettysburg. (BFS)

The beavers can stay as long as they want. The National Park Service stresses living with “all native plant and animal species within [national] parks,” Martz indicated. “When intervention is deemed to be necessary to protect other park resources, human health and safety, or facilities, such intervention will be kept to the minimum necessary to achieve the stated management objectives.”

Plum Run Pond has attracted attention. Last spring an individual with the handle “Infomanpa” inquired about the pond at Civil War Talk. On April 13, 2022 Tim Smith of the Adams County Historical Society visited the pond and discussed the issue on a Facebook post.

Getting back to the 4th Maine and July 2, 1863, I can imagine fiery ol’ Elijah Walker expressing his opinion about a beaver pond blocking his retreat across the Valley of Death. He would know what to with beavers creating a pond that becomes a nuisance. That’s how things are done in Maine, where beavers often dam road culverts and even small bridges.


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Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

 

 

 

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.