History of the Park

A Guide to Waterfalls Along the Delaware

Gifford Pinchot overlooks the falls on his property at Grey Towers
Painting by Marie Liu

Glaciers that left clefts in the sandstone and shale, shaped the unique geological characteristics of the Upper Delaware River region. For centuries people have been attracted to the river and its numerous tributaries, which produce alluring waterfalls as they tumble down the Pocono Mountains.

Early inhabitants, the Leni-Lenape Indians, whose capital was the Minisink Island in the Delaware river, tilled the rich soils of its flood plain, hunted its abundant game and used the plentiful water for sustainance and transport. The waterfalls were no doubt considered spiritual places for the Indians.

A Guide to Waterfalls Along the Delaware

Buttermilk Falls on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap NRA
Photo by Dawn J. Benko

Early settlers exploited the water’s power to create industries which helped a new nation form. The waterfalls became the power that drove waterwheels to mill lumber and grain that would house and feed the burgeoning cities of Trenton and Philadelphia. Creeks became holding areas for timber harvested in the region. As the creeks would swell in the spring thaw, the lumber would be floated to the Delaware, where it would be fashioned into large rafts and ridden down river to cities hungry for endless supplies of wood.

river logging1

Logging on the Delaware River
CREDIT: National Park Service

The destructive practice of clear cutting forests was eventually ended, in large part thanks to a very important resident of Milford, Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot. After studying forestry management in Europe, he brought the science to the US and established the Forestry Service, becoming the nation’s first Chief Forester. His tireless efforts changed the way the public viewed the natural resources. Thus, he is considered to be the first Conservationist. His close relationship with President Theodore Roosevelt became the impetus for the most powerful push to set aside large tracts of land as National Forests and Parks.

Perhaps, it seemed destined that much of the area near Pinchot’s home, Grey Towers, would become a National Recreation Area, but the circumstances leading to that was a painful chapter in the area’s history. The Tocks Island Project was a plan to dam the river to create a large lake in the valley for recreation and hydro power. Through eminent domain, land was seized on both sides of the river, but the project was eventually abandoned. It is said that this project was responsible for the conservation movement in New Jersey, where most of the recreation area is located.

Following the abandonment of the project, the seized land became the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation (DWGNRA), allowing the area to continue its long tradition of attracting visitors for respite and recreation.

From the mid to late 1800’s, visitors came to the large resorts that dotted the region, where they sought to escape the heat and discomfort of the cities in summer. In more recent history, the Poconos were synonymous with honeymoons and romantic getaways. Now the DWGNRA attracts millions of visitors to it’s numerous outdoor activities from hiking, biking, camping, waterfalling, boating and hunting.