Clarion River Project and Greenway

WPC conducted its first purchase of land along the Clarion River in 1976, inaugurated by a $2 million grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation. Goals for this region include conserving the natural resources and scenic beauty, establishing public access and, where possible, conveying properties to appropriate government entities for long term recreational management. To date, WPC has protected more than 11,600 acres along the Clarion and transferred more than 9,300 acres to appropriate governmental agencies for permanent public protection, and continues to hold 1,776 acres.



Some facts about the Clarion River:

  • 51.7 miles are free-flowing and contain remarkable scenic and recreational values of regional significance. The qualifying section is from the Allegheny National Forest/State Game Lands 44 boundary, downstream to the backwaters of the Piney Dam Reservoir. Two sections totaling 17 miles—from Portland Mills to Irwin Run and from Cooksburg to Piney Dam backwater—qualify for 'scenic' classification. The remaining 34.7 miles qualify for 'recreational' classification.
  • Since 1980, water quality in the Clarion River has steadily improved. Recreational activity in the river corridor continues to increase. These positive changes were brought about, in part, by renewed public interest for long-term protection of this river and improved industrial conditions affecting the river.
  • The Clarion River valley has a unique visual quality with its diverse and mature vegetation, steep slopes, sinuous channel and varying water conditions. The river, meandering through this mostly undeveloped scene, provides recreation lovers with spectacular views and a sense of isolation. The changing character of the water, from smooth to riffling, as the river flows over and around large boulders scattered along the river, adds to the visual appeal.
  • The old-growth forest in Cook Forest State Park is a registered National Natural Landmark and adds significantly to the visual quality of the river corridor
  • Most of the forest along the Clarion River consists of mature, second growth mixed hardwoods. The upper section is predominantly oak forest, while the lower section is consists of northern hardwoods. Conifers are often found on the steep slopes, hemlock and rhododendron often on northeast slopes, and white pine on southwest slopes.
  • The old-growth forest (white pine/hemlock/beech) in Cook Forest State Park is of ecological and scenic significance. Understory species include pin cherry, sassafras, dogwoods, mountain laurel, witch hazel, rhododendron, and alder and willow at the river edges. Both forested and non-forested wetlands are found in the river corridor.
  • The Clarion River and its tributaries were important in transporting timber to Pittsburgh during the rafting logging era of the mid-1800s. The timber industry was instrumental in the development of the extensive tanning industry in the region. Both the timber industry and the tanneries benefited from the development of the railroads in the area. Railroads were important in timber extraction and transportation of hides to and from the tanneries, as well as opening up the plateau areas inaccessible by waterways.
  • Clear Creek and Cook Forest State Parks are within the Clarion River corridor and contribute to the recreation use of the corridor. Cook Forest State Park is the second most heavily used park in the state system. Individuals from both state parks participate in the canoe use of the river. Cook Forest personnel have counted over 600 canoes, rafts and tubes during one peak-use weekend on the river segment adjacent to the park.
  • The Clarion River is considered Class C-I river. The C denotes flat flowing rivers with velocities above an easy back paddle. These characteristics make the Clarion a desirable river for canoeists of all abilities. On a scale of I-VI, the I denotes: fast moving water with riffles and small waves; few or no obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training; risk to swimmer is slight and self-rescue is easy.
  • The Clarion River is located in the unglaciated Allegheny plateau, from the ANF/SGL boundary below Ridgway to the backwater of Piney Dam.