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Op-Ed: Taking the Next Step in Watershed Protection – Private Support for a Public Good
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Ed Wytovich

By Ed Wytovich, Catawissa Creek Restoration Association

For many years many of us, as volunteers, have been involved with the reclamation work necessary due to past mining practices, mostly coal mining. My own experience has been limited to the Anthracite fields of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

When I first became involved back in the mid-1970s we were mainly concerned with land reclamation as passive ways to treat Abandoned Mine Water were just in their infancy. Looking back through the mists of time I remember planting thousands of trees, mostly conifers, to cover the scars left by mining. Innovation may have been as simple as planting an annual grass cover crop in order to provide shade so that trees had a chance to survive on our “black deserts.”

These efforts were successful in their time, but led to monocultures and little diversity of species. They did provide cosmetic cover to the landscape as well as erosion control. This was a step forward.

Many of us wanted to treat the water, but were at a loss how to do so economically. The Commonwealth, through “Operation Scarlift,” came up with plans to build “Yellow Boy” plants on several large discharges, but the efforts were thwarted by the high cost of both building and maintaining these facilities. Only two were built. Scarlift did provide us with much good data on chemistry, flows, and locations of AMD discharges. Much of this is still valuable data.

The first passive efforts that I remember were wetlands to remove metals that were moderately successful, but did not address the matter of water chemistry and acidity. During the 1980s, many advances were made in the area of “passive’ treatment systems. The first that I saw was a diversion well on the Rauch creek tributary to Stony creek in northern Dauphin County.

The success of the diversion well led to the building of others in the anthracite region. Diversion wells are not completely passive, in my mind, because they require constant filling and maintenance but they do work and are still in use.

There seemed to be a renewed interest in cleaning up AMD discharges at this time and to get public involvement in the process. Much credit must be given to the Department of Environmental Protection for a policy change from enforcement to taking a proactive stance in helping establish watershed organizations and providing advice and leadership to these groups.

This was enhanced by the establishment of Growing Greener, the availability of funds through many sources, education of volunteers, the involvement of the Conservation Districts and the establishment of the watershed specialist position at the conservation districts. All of these factors and many others have led to some great success both in Eastern and Western Pennsylvania.

Our passive technology has evolved to the point where we are now tackling discharges that at one time were considered too big and too expensive to treat with either active or passive systems economically.

As a result, many miles of streams are and will be made clean and once again become habitat for the fish and bugs and plants that once flourished there. We have done and continue to do this with little thought of the consequences of our actions.

The Constitution of Pennsylvania guarantees us the right to clean water and all of our efforts in that direction are now bearing fruit. The one thing that is not a right, however, is access to these waters.

In order to get to most stream reaches one must cross private property, and that is a privilege. I have thought long and hard about this as we continue our efforts to clean up the Catawissa Creek, one of my pet projects. This, I feel, is our next step.

One Sunday afternoon while watching the Steelers play at Heinz Field, it struck me-- naming rights. If corporations are willing to spend large sums of money to get their names on stadiums, would they be willing to spend some money on what I call “Sponsoring” rights on stream reaches? That is, to provide funds to purchase access easements from landowners so that we all can enjoy the fruits of our labors.

On our display board for the Cattawissa Creek Restoration Association we proudly proclaim “Soon to be a world class trout stream.” I think that all of us involved in restoration efforts feel that way about our streams. So how do we get landowners and corporations together in order to provide access?

My plan would entail talking to and, more importantly, listening to landowners and assessing their needs and concerns. Next I would get a land conservancy to share my dream and find out as much as possible about access easements and landowner liability. There is also a need to establish a set fee to be paid for these easements. Then it is on to sell the idea to possible funders of a project.

One of the big concerns of landowners is litter. The way that I propose we handle litter concerns is to manage our new fisheries for wild fish, this would take the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

It is sad to say but much of the litter along streams seems to follow the “Great White Fleet” of stocking trucks. By not stocking streams we should reduce the amount of litter and also reduce the crowding that is evident on so many stocked streams. We should also make our streams special regulation streams, catch and release, artificial lures, and barbless hooks only. This would serve to protect the resource, in this case the fishery itself and negate the necessity of stocking.

I would propose that our watershed groups in concert with others such as Trout Unlimited and scouts team up to provide stewardship in the way of litter patrol and trail maintenance. This will not only help the landowner but also give local groups ownership through labor.

What about overcrowding? I suggest that our fisheries access points be “walk in only” from established parking areas. Theses parking areas could be built with help from the local watershed group, Trout Unlimited and others as part of the easement deal. We would limit the amount of traffic by the number of parking spaces. Stream access would be prohibited from other areas unless the landowner decides otherwise.

A landowner may want to provide guide service with privileged parking closer to the stream and that may be a way for the landowner to realize additional income from access, while still keeping the stream open to all.

Another way for the landowner to gain some income and maintenance funds for the parking area is to put up a donation box at the parking area. Other, special access points might be provided for handicapped anglers.

Having limited access from designated parking areas will help to control not only he crowds but also Riff and Raff who generally seem to be too lazy to walk in to areas.

What about hunting and having fisherman interfere with hunters in the early seasons such as archery? Simple, close the area at the end of the traditional trout season-- August 31. This will not only keep the hunters happy but also take the stress of fishing off of the Brook and Brown trout during their fall spawn. Remember, we must also protect the resource.

Another project that I am involved with will require the acquisition of property. On this site we will be doing research on the use of composted poultry manure to reclaim and restore abandoned mine land. This particular site in Northern Dauphin County provides us with several unique opportunities.

The parking area we must build to accommodate researchers and equipment can also be used by hunters to access an adjoining State Game Land which is tough to get to without crossing private property. We also suggest that it be used as a trailhead for the eastern terminus of a rail trail proposed to be built from the town of Millersburg on the Susquehanna River to Williamstown, a distance of about 30 miles. Also on this site are settling ponds that were used in the preparation of coal, we hope to demonstrate the use of composted poultry manure as a sub base for constructed wetlands.

While we were at it we realized that this would make a great wetlands park and also provide access to the Wiconisco Creek, which will soon have its water chemistry restored and provide a trout fishery. There is also an opportunity to fish for bass and panfish in ponds on the site. This one site provides many unique opportunities.

As I said, this site requires acquisition and having a sponsor supply some or all of the matching funds required to secure an acquisition grant would be another funding opportunity for potential sponsors.

What might a sponsor realize out of a financial commitment besides tax benefits? A tasteful sign that might say something to the effect of “Access to this site provided in part by the generosity of XYZ Corporation.” This will be soft advertising for the company and may also provide a site where the company may want to do some filming of a promotional nature.

Opening or keeping open more land and water will also serve to expand opportunities for outdoorsmen and perhaps help get more young people get involved in both environmental efforts as well as enjoyment of outdoor sports whether they be fishing, hunting, hiking, birding, biking, etc. This I see as an opportunity to pass on a legacy of appreciation of the out of doors.

I do not feel that all sites will meet corporate criteria for funding, but I do believe that carefully choosing and marketing our restoration efforts will lead to some positive responses from possible funding partners.

All in all I feel that developing a plan for sponsorship will enhance not only outdoor opportunities but help build trust and partnerships throughout the community of our watersheds. It is up to us to “Take the next Step.”

Ed Wytovich is president of the Catawissa Creek Restoration Association, the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition For Abandoned Mine Reclamation and a middle school science teacher. He can be reached at crickguy@ptd.net


2/25/2005

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