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Growing Greener Anniversary- Blackleggs Creek: When An AMD Treatment System Becomes A Park

The Blackleggs Creek Watershed Association in Indiana and Armstrong counties submitted this story about how Growing Greener has funded installation of an acid mine drainage treatment system that became a community park. The Association is now becomes eligible for a $250 Growing Greener Anniversary Grant.

Blackleggs Creek: When An AMD Treatment System Becomes A Park

In August 2009, nestled into the rolling hills of southern Indiana County, a Memorial Park was dedicated to all the past volunteers and members of the Blackleggs Creek Watershed.

The events leading up to this dedication began decades ago and are filled with trial and error, as well as success for the Blackleggs Creek Watershed, and here is the story as told by one of the dedicated volunteers.

Between the years of 1910 thru 1930 the area around Indiana County was largely made up of coal mines and populated by coal miners. These folks were not environmentalists, only simple men making a living. Their legacy is in our culture and unfortunately in our streams. Blackleggs Creek, a relatively small watershed of roughly 45 square miles, has an astonishing 52 Abandoned Mine Drainage discharges. Sadly, nothing was done for years to address this AMD.

In 1971, the DER (predecessor to the DEP) began a Scar Lift Study in Blackleggs Creek Watershed to determine what could be done to repair it. Additionally, there was a concerned group of people who were interested in restoring Blackleggs Creek. Of this core group, many of their names are lost, however they became the first known environmental volunteers for Blackleggs Creek. These men measured water flows, tested chemistry and located all the mining related impacts on the watershed.

In 1974, when the study was completed the DER estimated that it would take $1,160,000 to restore Blackleggs to its natural condition. That same year, the DER directed $27,000 towards Blackleggs restoration efforts, sadly the core group could not raise additional funds to meet the restoration needs of the watershed, so they had to put their goal on hold for another decade.

In 1984, ironic as it may seem, a group of coal miners decided that they wanted to fish the creek that their forefathers had unknowingly destroyed. For two years they bought and stocked fish and raised interest in fishing Blackleggs again.

In 1986, Blackleggs became an approved trout stream with the help of the Fish and Boat Commission and their president at that time, Ross Huhn, a former resident of Saltsburg.
As fishing interest grew, volunteers built a trout nursery, started a Co-Op, held an annual Kids Day and had a lot of fishing enjoyment for the next decade.

In 1998, Lou Kopczyk, at the time working at the Indiana County Conservation District, came to the new Blackleggs Creek Trout Nursery and told them about a new source of funding for watershed groups to clean their streams. He convinced them to begin monitoring the stream well in advance so that they would be ready to apply for a Growing Greener grant and begin work for the DEP.

To verify the data the Trout Nursery collected, they found the old Scar Lift report and gave it to the DEP. The information within that report has been invaluable towards restoration efforts in improving Blackleggs Creek Watershed.

Over the next several months, data was collected paperwork was completed and thankfully funding was granted. The first AMD treatment system that was installed along Blackleggs Creek, completed in 2001, is known as the Kolb treatment system.

The system was a simple two cell passive treatment system designed to treat the approximate 1,000 gallon per minute net alkaline discharge. The water is aerated by the force of the flow dropping over an aeration basket, which allows a majority of the iron to precipitates and collect in a large holding pond, and the remaining to settle out through a polishing wetland.

Funding for the system came from a variety of sources including $65,500 from the Growing Greener program.

To date, the system has received regular maintenance and several repairs to pipes leading to the system, and thanks to the care of volunteers and new funding sources, is still in relatively good working order, and continues to help improve the water quality of Blackleggs Creek. In-fact, Kolb and the land around the system has been transitioned into to a Memorial Park in memory of all the Kolb AMD treatment system aeration fountain and ponds past members who had the dream of cleaning up their watershed.

Visitors to the park can fish along Blackleggs Creek or enjoy a picnic in the nearby pavilion, all the while being serenaded by the water flowing through Kolb’s aeration fountain. There is a short trail winding through the park leading up to Kolb, where visitors can see the system at work.

A future goal of Blackleggs Creek Watershed Association is to post interactive signage around the system explaining how Kolb is improving the watershed.

The Kolb AMD treatment system was just the starting point for the restoration work that has taken place throughout the watershed.

Roughly $1.5 million dollars has currently been spent improving Blackleggs Creek Watershed with the installation of four AMD treatment systems, a fifth under construction, and a six in the system for funding assistance, and there is an estimated $1.5 million left to go before all the major AMD discharges have been addressed.

Without funding assistance from programs like Growing Greener, Blackleggs Creek would still be in terrible shape, and BCWA would like to thank all the funders and volunteers who have contributed to improving Blackleggs Creek Watershed and invite them out to the stream during spring trout stocking season to enjoy some of the fruits of their labor.


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