"Northern Woods"

Conservancy Adds to Protection Along Clarion River

In Pennsylvania’s Northern Woods, the upper section of the Clarion River, between the towns of Ridgway and Hallton, peacefully winds through boulders and steep banks blanketed with oak, hemlock and white pine trees. Midland painted turtles, green herons and muskrats live along the riverbank, while bald eagles occasionally soar overhead. In this federally recognized Wild and Scenic River there are also smallmouth bass and many species of trout, as well as native brook trout in the tributaries.

The Clarion River glides by State Game Land 283 in Jefferson County.
The Clarion River glides by State Game Land 283 in Jefferson County.

It’s easy to see why this is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. This portion of the Clarion is a Class C-I river, which means canoeists of all abilities can paddle it. And, because the Allegheny National Forest, State Game Lands, State Parks and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy-owned properties line the river, the public has plenty of access points to the Clarion.

The Conservancy has protected more than 12,000 acres along the Clarion River since the 1970s, creating a conserved corridor. One of the final pieces in this patchwork of publicly accessible land fell into place in 2012 when the Conservancy purchased 529 acres of forestland – including nearly two miles of river frontage – in Elk County along the north side of the river.

Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)

The forestland and the river played crucial early roles in the region’s industrial history, which included lumbering, paper milling, wood chemical processing, coal mining and leather tanning. Starting in the late 1800s, settlers deforested the hillsides for these and other purposes. The industrial activity eventually led to the degradation of the land and river.

“The property most recently purchased has not been timber-managed in about 100 years, so we do have nice timber on the slopes now,” said Matt Marusiak, a land protection manager who works in the Conservancy’s Allegheny Regional Office in Ridgway. “But that history took its toll. The Clarion was considered a dead river in the 1970s.”

The Conservancy first purchased land along the river in 1976 and, in the 1980s, began the Clarion River land acquisition focusing on the corridor from Ridgway to Piney Dam in Clarion County.

A number of factors, including cooperation from industry and the Clean Water Act, helped the Clarion rebound; it was named Pennsylvania’s River of the Year three times since the award’s establishment in 1983 and it is now part of the National Wild and Scenic River program.

This newest block of forestland to be acquired is especially appreciated by the canoeists on the river, as well as the hikers and bikers who use the popular Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail that follows the southern bank of the Clarion.

The property is also rich in biodiversity. Several rare aquatic invertebrate species have been documented in this section of the Clarion River and the property offers habitat for bald eagles, goshawks and timber rattlesnakes. It’s not uncommon for users of the Clarion-Little Toby trail to see herons, deer and porcupine.