"An Ecological Treasure"
Discover French Creek
Welcome to French Creek, where there's a lot to learn and love! Few streams in Pennsylvania are more attractive and more biologically diverse than French Creek. This nationally renowned waterway begins in Chautauqua County, western New York, and flows for 117 miles through northwestern Pennsylvania counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer and Venango until it empties into the Allegheny River at Franklin, Pennsylvania.
With nine major tributaries, the watershed encompasses 1,235 square miles, over 90 percent of which are in Pennsylvania's rolling hills and broad valleys of the Allegheny River watershed. A historical waterway, French Creek was named in 1753 by young George Washington as he journeyed to Fort LeBoeuf (now Waterford, Erie County) to warn the French that they were on British territory. French Creek provided early settlers with abundant natural resources, including a waterway for transportation.
French Creek is rich in natural history, too. Join us to discover the ecological treasures of French Creek.
Life In French Creek
Recreation is an important river value of French Creek. Boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, viewing wildlife, camping and relaxing are just a few of the many outdoor activities enjoyed along the waterway.
Freshwater mussels are vital to the health of French Creek. Mussels live in the creek bottom, and filter the water to eat and breathe. Mussels were once common throughout eastern North America, but are now much more rare due to water pollution and the alteration of their habitat by dams and dredging. French Creek is a special place for mussels; more freshwater mussel species (25) live in French Creek than in any other Pennsylvania stream. The clubshell and northern riffleshell are two state and federal endangered mussels that are found in this stream.
French Creek is healthy, but it's fragile. You can tell it's healthy because you can find special wildlife, like mussels, darters, lots of aquatic insects, reptiles and amphibians. Mussels and many fish can't live in streams that aren't healthy.
With the water as its only home, the hellbender is Pennsylvania's largest salamander and is dependent upon the river. Up to 29 inches long, the hellbender is a shy creature found along clear, boulder-strewn sections of French Creek. It feeds on crayfish, a pollution-sensitive aquatic organism.
There are few dams in the French Creek watershed, so it's mostly a free-flowing river. This winding stream has some sections where the water flows slowly (pools), and other sections where the water flows faster (riffles). Several kinds of darters and mussels live in the fast-flowing riffles of French Creek.
More than 80 different species of fish, including 14 species of darters, can be found in French Creek. Some are very rare, like the Pennsylvania-endangered eastern sand darter and spotted darter. Because the brightly-colored darters require a high-quality stream environment and do not migrate, they depend on their immediate surroundings and are sensitive to changes in the river's environment.
The landscape surrounding French Creek includes farmland, wooded areas, meadows, wetlands and towns, all of which influence the river's quality. The river ecosystem interacts with the surrounding landscape in many ways. The roots of trees along the bank help to hold the soil in place and keep the bank from eroding. Leaves that fall to the ground and decompose provide nutrients and a food source for life in the stream. Trees provide shade which keeps water temperatures cool and oxygen levels high enough to support aquatic life. The value of a river can be seen in the wildlife and aquatic life, income, recreation, transportation and aesthetics it provides to the area through which it flows.
Keeping French Creek Healthy
We depend on rivers for drinking water, food, transportation, recreation, waste removal, a source of energy and a place to locate cities and industry. These demands, however, can spell trouble for the health of rivers and the organisms that depend on them.
Some harmful impacts to watersheds include damming, dredging, pollution from "point" and "non-point" sources, alteration of stream flow or introduction of species not native to the region.
Here's how some common elements of human life affect French Creek.
French Creek needs your help! We can all help keep French Creek healthy by being cautious of our impact on the stream.
- Waste Water Discharges: Leaks from faulty home septic systems, overflows and discharges from sewage treatment plants, and releases from industrial plants, add fecal matter, chlorine, ammonia and industrial chemicals to the stream.
- Agriculture: Failure to use best management practices (e.g., logging or farming too close to streams, allowing livestock to walk in streams) results in runoff of soil, animal waste, fertilizer and pesticides to the stream.
- Dredging: Removal of sand and gravel destroys habitat for mussels and fish, and can negatively alter stream flow.
- Roads/Bridges: Runoff from roads often includes oil, salt, and other chemicals harmful to aquatic life. Bridge piers alter stream flow.
- Invasive Species: The introduction of non-native plants and animals can threaten native species through competition, and cause unforeseen economic impacts.
What You Can Do
French Creek is unique because it hasn't been extensively damaged like many other rivers. You can help maintain the health and diversity of French Creek -- by yourself, or together with your neighbors.
Remember these things to keep your watershed healthy:
- Regularly clean out your septic tank and be sure it is functioning properly.
- Dispose of waste motor oil and other chemicals (e.g., pesticides) properly. Don't ever pour them into the creek or on the ground.
- Leave an undisturbed, vegetated strip of land between farm fields and streams to prevent runoff containing soil, fertilizer and pesticides from entering streams.
- Keep livestock out of streams to prevent erosion of the banks and keep manure out of the stream.
- Keep stream banks wooded to reduce erosion and use best management practices when logging.
- Don't release leftover live bait into a stream. Adding species that aren't native to a waterway can harm native species through competition and can have unforeseen economic impacts.
- Can you identify a wetland? They minimize flooding, recharge ground water, protect water quality, and provide a home for fish and wildlife. Don't drain or fill wetlands.
- Many community education efforts are underway. Get involved and learn more!
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
800 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Web site: www.paconserve.org
French Creek Project
Meadville, PA 16335