During recent years, visitors to the section of Gallagher Run that flows through the St. Leo Magnus Church yard in Ridgway might have noticed rusting wire baskets precariously holding rocks on a badly eroding streambank.

Gallagher Run is a cold water stream that provides clean water to Elk Creek and the Clarion River watershed and supports naturally reproducing populations of wild trout. But gabions – wire baskets filled with rocks – installed years ago to stabilize the streambanks, were rusting and failing, presenting a hazard to people and wildlife. These gabions also narrowed the stream channel resulting in increased water velocity during storms, which exacerbated erosion along the streambank and flooding downstream.

This summer, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) worked with several partners to restore a 200-foot section of Gallagher Run by stabilizing its eroding banks on both sides and improving fish habitat and water quality. The project was a cooperative effort between St. Leo Magnus Church, the James Zwald chapter of Trout Unlimited (JZTU), Elk County Conservation District and the Conservancy.

Luke Bobnar, WPC watershed scientist and the project’s supervisor, says he noticed the failing gabions and the erosion, and approached the church about fixing them.

“The project appealed to the church as it would make the area safer, more beautiful and environmentally friendly,” Luke says. “And the Conservancy would seek local and state grant funding for the project so the church would not have to spend any funds.”

Conservancy watershed manager Kylie Maland explains, “WPC’s watershed conservation program staff worked with the church and local partners, including the PA Fish and Boat Commission and the Elk County Conservation District, to design a stream restoration and bank stabilization project that improves fish habitat and water quality by stabilizing the streambanks using more natural materials.”

She adds Dyne Excavating, based in Kane, was contracted to complete the heavy equipment work. They embedded large rocks across the stream every 20 to 40 feet in v-shaped “cross vanes” to help center the flow and redirect it away from the banks to reduce erosion.

“It’s good that we’ve created water cascading over the rock vanes creates following, self-flushing pools that provide resting and feeding areas for fish and other aquatic species,” Kylie says. The contractors lined stones along the streambanks to provide further stabilization during high flows. A top coat of amended soil was added, along with a native riparian seed mix specific to Elk County designed by WPC staff as a streamside wildflower garden benefitting pollinators and wildlife.

This fall, WPC staff will plant edible and decorative shrubs along the stream to create a riparian buffer, which filters pollutants from runoff to clean the water. The buffer also provides shade to keep the water cool for fish, enhances the natural beauty of Gallagher Run, St. Leo’s and Ridgway and produces food for wildlife and human visitors to the stream.

“The project is intended to be a holistic treatment of the area, allowing the stream, fish, macroinvertebrates (stream bugs) and people to coexist,” Luke says, noting that the project partners hope it leads to similar improvements on Gallagher Run, Elk Creek and elsewhere in the county and state. He added that materials for the project were sourced locally from Elk County and the surrounding region to support local businesses.

The project was financed in part by a Growing Greener grant provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Coldwater Heritage Partnership on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Environmental Stewardship Fund), the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds and the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.

The project was identified in the “Coldwater Conservation Plan for Elk Creek,” completed by the Elk County Conservation District in 2018. Many additional projects and stream improvement recommendations were identified in the plan, which can be viewed at coldwaterheritage.org.

For more information on the Gallagher Run restoration project, please contact Luke Bobnar at 814-776-1114 or lbobnar@paconserve.org.


About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy:
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) enhances the region by protecting and restoring exceptional places. A private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932, WPC has helped to establish 11 state parks, conserved more than a quarter million acres of natural lands and protected or restored more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams. The Conservancy owns and operates Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List and symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 130 community gardens and other green spaces that are planted with the help of more than 5,000 volunteers. The work of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 9,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org or Fallingwater.org.