From Farm Land to Frack Land

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If there is one part of our area that has seen dramatic change in the past 10 to15 years it is the northern tier.

It has gone from farm land to frack land.

In the 1990s I was assigned daily stories in Susquehanna, Bradford, and Wyoming counties, a rural area known for the beauty of the Endless Mountains and agriculture.

Now the area is filled with natural gas drilling sites.

This month I returned to see how the region has changed since I was there back in the '90s.

I remember my time in the northern tier as a lot of farm land, corn fields, dairy cows and farms.

Many stories were devoted to dairy farming and the struggle farmers had when milk prices bottomed out.

In November of 1996  I spent a day on the Castrogiovanni dairy farm outside Montrose to show what dairy life was like.

John Castrogiovanni was 70 at the time. Agriculture and dairy farming were the way of life and living in the country remained peaceful, quiet and serene.

Now the country roads are filled with big trucks hauling big equipment because the northern tier is full of Marcellus shale.

Truck after truck hauling equipment used to drill for natural gas out of that shale travel non-stop on the country roads.

Years ago in Susquehanna County and in Bradford County it would take us no time to drive across the river bridge between Wysox and Towanda.

Now it is jammed with truck traffic.

As a borough police officer puts it, Towanda is not the sleepy little Norman Rockwell town it used to be.

While the streets are clogged with trucks, the natural gas industry has sparked new life.

Back in the '90s I remember many of the  downtown stores were empty.

"If you look around downtown Towanda you'll see there's more full store fronts then there have been in a long time which help everybody,"  said Jay Cory of Ben Franklin Crafts.

But with growth comes the growing pains, and many country folk who have been used to affordable living are noticing a housing squeeze.

"The one thing I see that's not very beneficial is the high rent which people are charging for individuals such as the local people can't afford  to rent them because everyone is becoming real money hungry and wanting to raise their rent extremely high because of the gas people," said Don Stringham of Bradford County.

Still, the industry has provided work.

The unemployment rate in Bradford County has declined to 6 percent, one of the lowest in the state.

With people employed there is money to spend.

Kevin Corbett owns a car dealership in Wysox.

"The local people who have an opportunity to basically have a higher earning job and the come and buy vehicles not just from me but from other dealers," Corbett said.

Ironically,  Corbett's property in Wysox was once a lending institution for farmers who may have gracefully taken a back seat to natural gas drilling in the northern tier.

Back in Susquehanna County, the number of farms has dwindled since I was there in the '90s from about 300 then to around 100 now.

The survivors include he Castrogiovanni farm.

"It's so good to see you!" said John Castrogiovanni as he gave me a hub. "I thought you'd never be up here again!"

John, now 85 years old, took my hand and we walked out to the barn like we did in 1996.

Once we were in the barn John got right to work, getting the cows ready for milking.

"I thought by now you would have thought about giving it up," I said to John.

"Well, why? What would I do? Besides which. I enjoy it!" Castrogiovanni responded.

For now, John will stick with farming along with his two sons, but it is kind of sad because nearly all the farms around them have either gotten out of the dairy business because they just couldn't make ends meet or have sold their land to natural gas drillers.