Natural Resource Conservation

Clarion River Project

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. From the beginning, the goals have been to conserve the natural resources and scenic beauty, establish public access and, where possible, convey properties to appropriate government entities for long term recreational management. To date, WPC has protected over 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.

Water Trail Map
WPC just finished a project to provide an updated water trail map.
Clarion Greenway Project Fact Sheet
View our Fact Sheet.
Clarion River Greenway Plan
View our Draft Clarion River Greenway Plan.
Background and History
Learn about the fascinating history of the Clarion
Natural Resources of the Clarion
Information on the wildlife and vegetation of the Clarion River corridor.

Some facts about the Clarion:

51.7 miles are free-flowing and contain outstandingly remarkable scenic and recreational values of regional significance. The qualifying section is from the Allegheny National Forest/State Game Lands 44 boundary (just south of Ridgway) downstream to the backwaters of Piney Dam Reservoir. Two Sections - from Portland Mills to Irwin Run, and Cooksburg to Piney Dam backwater - totaling 17 miles, 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 changed conditions 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 recreationists 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 quality.

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
Vegetation - most of the forest along the Clarion River consists of mature, second growth mixed hardwoods. The upper section, below Ridgway, is predominantly oak forest, and the lower section, towards Clarion, is mostly northern hardwoods. Conifers are often found on the steep slopes: hemlock and rhododendron often on northeast slopes, and white pine on southwest slopes. Common tree species are red, white, and chestnut oak, red and sugar maple, yellow birch, black cherry, white pine, hemlock and sycamore in the floodplains. 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.
History - Lumbering began in the Clarion River corridor in the early 1800s and continued to be an important industry in the area through the late nineteenth century. The Clarion River and its tributaries were important for transporting of timber to Pittsburgh (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 (railroad logging era of the late 1800s). 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. Both parks are open for year-round activities. Some people 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 attracts more than canoeists; it is also an attraction for picnicking, sightseeing, camping, watching wildlife, birding, fishing and hiking. A variety of recreational facilities in the Allegheny National Forest, and at Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks support the river-based recreation. The river may be the focal point, but would not be as attractive if the support facilities did not exist.
The Clarion River, from the ANF/SGL boundary below Ridgway to the backwater of Piney Dam is located in the unglaciated Allegheny plateau. It is free flowing and relatively slow moving with meanders and a generally steep valley with little floodplain.