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Making us conscious of streams

Friday, May 18, 2001

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A 20-canoe armada is paddling the Clarion River today and tomorrow, the first of a dozen "sojourns" aimed at highlighting Pennsylvania's rivers and creeks and the ongoing efforts to improve their water quality.

The two-day to one-week canoe trips planned this month and next, on waterways ranging from the Allegheny River in the west to the Delaware River in the east, will provide a paddler's-eye view of some of the state's most beautiful and polluted flows.

"The main purpose is education and community awareness, because for so long, our rivers and streams have been so bad," said Bonnie Swinehart of Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, the group coordinating the events.

"Many of them have improved so much, and this will let the people experience the massive attempts made to clean them up firsthand."

Pennsylvania has 83,261 miles of flowing water -- second only to Alaska -- but as many as one-third of those rivers, creeks and streams have been polluted by acid mine drainage, sewage, agricultural runoff or urban storm water runoff.

Discharges are still coming from older, abandoned and working mines, and acid mine drainage is the biggest water problem in the state, polluting more than 2,400 miles of streams. Agricultural runoff degrades another 1,300 miles.

The two-day event on the Clarion, organized by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, will cover one of the nicest stretches of water: 17 miles of the 41-mile section in Jefferson, Forest and Clarion counties that has been designated a federal Scenic and Recreational River. Canoeists will pass through some of the 12,600 acres of land the conservancy has bought and protected since 1977.

A more urban canoeing experience will be in store for the more than 100 people who have signed up to paddle 24 miles of Chartiers Creek tomorrow and Sunday. The 52-mile-long creek, among the most polluted in the state, meanders north through 40 communities in Washington and Allegheny counties before dumping its mixed load of acid mine drainage, sewage and urban runoff into the Ohio River.

But Mickey Bannon, a Chartiers Nature Conservancy board member, said water quality is better today than it was 40 years ago and other improvements are in the offing, including canoe launch sites in Collier, Carnegie, McKees Rocks and in the city near the Thornburg Bridge.

"There are fish in the creek now and blue heron rookeries," he said. "Lots of people have driven over it, but they can't make a connection with it unless they're on it. If they don't see it, they can't value it, and if they don't value it, they won't care if it's saved."

In addition to the Clarion River and Chartiers Creek, sojourns are planned for the Kiski-Conemaugh River (30 miles, June 1-3), Juniata River (100 miles, June 1-9), Schuylkill River (100 miles, June 2-8), French Creek (85 miles, June 11-15), Delaware River (70 miles, June 15-23), Allegheny River (33 miles, June 16-18), West Branch of the Susquehanna River (100 miles, June 16-23), Youghiogheny River (75 miles, June 17-23) and Lehigh River (75 miles, June 23-28).

Public participation is welcome although some sojourns are limiting the number of participants for logistical or safety reasons. Event organizers urge those who want to participate to register in advance.

For more information on the sojourns and contacts, call the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers at (717) 234-7910, or visit

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