Nov 26 2012
There’s a unique place in north central Pennsylvania at the top of three major watersheds. It’s called The Triple Divide.
When a raindrop falls there it can split three ways:
- In one direction, it flows west to the Allegheny River, down the Mississippi watershed and into the Gulf of Mexico.
- Or it flows north to the Genesee River, Lake Ontario, the Saint Lawrence watershed and into the north Atlantic.
- Or it flows southeast to Pine Creek, the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The spot is in Genesee Twp, Potter County, Pennsylvania and is marked with the sign pictured above.
The location itself is unremarkable. It’s not a big mountain, just a hill on the Allegheny Plateau near the New York state line. It’s not even the highest point in Pennsylvania, but it spawns three major North American rivers: the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence and the Susquehanna.
According to Dr. Robert N. Andersen at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, “Triple divide points are ubiquitous in North America. Wherever there is a confluence of two streams there is a Triple Divide Point uniquely associated with the confluence. ” Then he uses Pittsburgh’s confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers to describe how to find a triple divide near us.
Beginning at the Point in Pittsburgh, trace the border of the Allegheny and Monongahela watersheds, moving upstream. Eventually you reach the place where the border ends. At that point in Somerset County, east of Berlin, PA, is a triple divide that drains the Mississippi (via the Conemaugh and Youghiogeny), the North Branch of the Potomac, and the Susquehanna River (via the Juniata).
In the western U.S. there are triple divides that drain to both the Atlantic and Pacific. And somewhere in Canada there’s an oceanic triple divide where a raindrop can split and flow to the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
Follow a raindrop uphill and you’ll eventually find a triple divide.
(photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original and explore the location on Google Maps)