Learn How WPC Helped in the Conservation Success of a Cleaner Clarion River, Pennsylvania’s 2019 River of the Year!

Its remoteness and breathtaking natural beauty help make the 110-mile Clarion River among Western Pennsylvania’s greatest ecological and recreational assets. Paddlers flock to the Clarion River each year for popular floats that include meandering stretches between Forest and Jefferson counties, and it draws wildlife watchers and anglers to its banks for fishing.

So, it’s no surprise that thousands of people voted the Clarion River as Pennsylvania’s 2019 River of the Year. But, this major tributary to the Allegheny River wasn’t always a popular place for wildlife and recreation. In 1909, Arnold E. Ortmann, the first curator of invertebrate zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, called the Clarion River “one of the worst streams in the state.” At that time, nearby forests were cut down and, with growth of industry, water quality suffered – so much so that the bottom of the river could not be inspected due to high levels of pollution.

The Clarion’s recovery is now considered a decades-long success story of conservation efforts by many partnering organizations and agencies, including WPC, to protect, restore and improve habitat within the watershed – ultimately helping to provide the many recreational opportunities outdoor enthusiasts enjoy today.

Mouth of Big Mill looking from Clarion River Inholding

Since the 1970s, WPC has protected nearly 13,000 acres of land along the river, starting with more than 3,500 acres protected in the southern section of the Clarion River. And more recently in 2012, WPC protected a 530-acre property that provides habitat for bald eagles, goshawks and timber rattlesnakes. With nearly two miles of river frontage, this property was the last “gap” in a long section of protected corridor along the north side of the river.

These lands are now national forest, state park, forest or game land, or property still managed by the Conservancy – all open to the public. Some of the Conservancy’s recent restoration projects along the river and watershed included vegetative stream bank stabilization, culvert replacements, riparian plantings and acid mine drainage remediation work – all helping to restore 6.6 stream miles within the Clarion River watershed to improve fish habitats in tributaries along the river.

With much of the land along the river protected and various watershed restoration efforts implemented or underway, water quality continues to improve. Recent studies confirm the presence of hellbender salamanders and abundant populations of fish and aquatic insects. In 2014, a WPC survey found two common species of freshwater mussels not known to the Clarion River, yet more proof of improved water quality and the reciprocal benefits of water and land conservation efforts. As part of an historic effort to relocate more than 28,000 freshwater mussels from the Allegheny River in 2015, Conservancy scientists and other partners chose the rebounding Clarion River as the new home for hundreds of displaced common mussels.

WPC - Clarion River, PennsylvaniaThrough WPC’s Canoe Access Development Fund, which supports canoe and kayak projects that improve access to the region’s waterways, three access sites were recently installed along the Clarion. There are also hiking trails and camping opportunities near the river at Clear Creek State Forest and Allegheny National Forest, both of which have benefited from land originally protected by the Conservancy.

“The Conservancy is proud to work with so many committed partners in the region and over the years on efforts to protect and restore the Clarion River, helping to make the river healthy again and a popular recreational resource,” said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the Conservancy.

Read more about the Clarion River and the relocation of hundreds of freshwater mussels to it in an article in a recent edition of WPC’s Conserve Magazine.

For more information about our watershed or land conservation efforts in the Clarion River, contact WPC’s Allegheny Regional Office in Ridgway, Pa. at 814-776-1114 or alleghenyproject@paconserve.org.