Western Pennsylvania Home to “River of the Year”

Tim Camerato January 9, 2012

The Stonycreek River, running from Cambria into Somerset County, is Pennsylvania’s 2012 River of the Year. The river’s corridor, located in the Laurel Highlands, is home to the Forbes Trail, the Flight 93 National Memorial, Greenhouse Park, and Whitewater Park.

The Stonycreek was chosen by online voters from among four nominees, including the Kiskiminetas, the Middle Monongahela, and Upper Juniata Rivers. Last year’s winner was eastern Pennsylvania’s Delaware River.

Len Lichvar, manager of the Somerset Conservation District, said that the Stonycreek was polluted by abandoned mine drainage for more than 100 years until the 1990s when restoration efforts began. “A consortium of public-private partnerships, lead by the Somerset Conservation District and the Cambria County Conservation District, with the assistance of the late Congressman John Murtha, decided to see if we could turn the fortunes of the river around from a polluted river and a lifeless river to one that would have a little bit more vibrancy.”

(Richard Foust/Northern Arizona University)
The Stonycreek River shows the effect of Paint Creek, a stream affected by acid mine drainage, mixing with clean water from Stonycreek.

The Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project was created in 1991, and has since implemented a $5 million project to bring aquatic life back to the river.

Lichvar said that the resurgence of life in the river brought back recreational boaters and sightseers to the area.

He said that while much progress has been made, the river could be in better shape. “We still have tremendous pollution problems with tributaries such as Paint Creek and Dark Shade Creek,” said Lichvar. “And there are still dead zones on the Stonycreek River itself because of those pollution problems that still are unabated. So much work yet needs to be done, despite the improvements that have already occurred.”

Events are being planned to celebrate the river’s designation, but Lichvar said that nothing specific has been announced yet.