Welcome to the Horn Farm’s Multifunctional Riparian Buffer!

Like the buffer, this informational page is under construction! More pictures and plant features are on their way. Thank you for visiting and learning about ways we can restore ecological health at home!

The Horn Farm Center is home to two seasonal stream corridors that were originally dug for agricultural purposes back when the land was conventionally farmed. They were designed to control water by draining runoff to Kreutz Creek: a natural stream that meanders through York County before emptying into the Susquehanna River. While unnatural, these streams are now a part of our landscape. However, in being designed solely for cropland management, they lack the ecological infrastructure that stabilizes natural waterways and connected ecosystems in our bioregion. Like many streams on lands cleared for agriculture, ours have endured:

  • Sedimentation (the depositing of excess solid particles in a waterway),
  • Chemical leaching (excesses of chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorous entering the waterway due to historical fertilizer use).
  • Stormwater runoff (water that is siphoned away during large rain events rather than being absorbed by deep-rooted plants and spread by natural landscape saturation–threatening groundwater levels).
  • Streambank erosion (the destabilization and collapse of land along the stream edge due to rapid runoff and stream currents during rain),
  • … and a significant loss of biodiversity, both floral and faunal.

Problems like this have rippling effects both upstream at the Horn Farm Center and downstream to the Susquehanna and beyond.

Exposed, contaminated streams are inhospitable to fish and macroinvertebrates that serve as the basis of regional food chains. Birds, mammals, and pollinators are also affected, deprived of a reliable water source and the native vegetation they need for suitable food and habitat. For our other-than-human neighbors, rehabilitating streams and protecting healthy waterways are critical actions. Intact streams and wetlands are some of the most vibrant, generous, and biodiverse habitats in our bioregion, and they face ongoing threats due to development and land mismanagement. In fact, the majority of Pennsylvania’s threatened or endangered species are wetland species.

Dry land along impaired streams is also more susceptible to flash flooding, as we witnessed at the Horn Farm Center in 2018 and 2021. Additionally, a long history of unchecked mineral and chemical runoff into local streams–caused by agriculture and road runoff–has contributed to an ecological crisis in the Chesapeake Bay. About half of the freshwater flows to the Bay come from the river that our waterways feed: the Susquehanna. So, very quickly, two depleted stream trenches at our Center–in a story echoed across the Pennsylvania–have resounding impacts on wildlife, water security, climate resilience, and crucial downstream ecologies.

To address these compounding problems and play our role in statewide efforts to restore the health of the Chesapeake, the Horn Farm undertook a series of riparian buffer plantings beginning in 2018.

Riparian buffers act like safety nets for streams, rivers, and lakes. By planting trees, shrubs, and grasses along waterways, we restore the networks of deep roots and sprawling, biodiverse vegetation once characteristic of the aquatic corridors in our bioregion. Natural elements like this protect the water by intercepting sediment pollution, filtering chemical contaminants, and slowing the runoff that causes runaway bank erosion, all while providing forage and habitat for birds, bats, insects, mammals, and aquatic life. Riparian buffers help us give back to the ecology we depend on, recharge groundwater, and reclaim the watershed health that will, over time, relieve the ailing Chesapeake Bay.

The 10-acre riparian buffer remediation that you are visiting began in 2020, and has been our largest and most ambitious restoration action to date. As a demonstration of land management that brings together ecological health and direct human benefit (though ecological health IS a human benefit), this buffer is designed to be multifunctional. In a multifunctional riparian buffer, native trees and woody shrubs that are rebuilding habitat also provide agroforestry products that can be responsibly gleaned and used to supply local needs and industries. Examples of harvestable materials include willow cuttings for basketry, weaving, and medicine; American hazelnuts for flours, nut butters, oils, and other value-added products; elderberries, serviceberries, and black raspberries for culinary and medicinal uses; and numerous riparian plants for the production of “live stakes,” or plant cuttings that can be rooted elsewhere for ongoing restoration. While the primary function of the buffer is ecological, it also serves as a garden, a gathering place for woody crafts, a restoration nursery, and a community space for inspiring wonder and curiosity.

Together with incredible volunteer support, we’re building a regenerative landscape that balances water protection, habitat creation, and the ability to harvest materials and calories that we can use without damaging the natural system.

The Horn Farm Center celebrates a vision of relationship between land and people where both can thrive in harmony and reciprocity, and riparian buffers are just one of the ways we’re bringing this vision to to our community.

This project has been generously supported by DCNR PennVestthe GIANT Company & Keeping Pennsylvania Beautiful’s Healing the Planet Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Keystone 10 Million Trees initiative.

To learn more about the Horn Farm’s multifunctional riparian buffer, you can dig deep at our Horn Farm Ecosystem blog series: