The Clarion is calling...get out there!
Clarion River 2019 PA River of the Year Nomination
The Clarion River lies within the headwaters of the Ohio River watershed. The Clarion River begins in north-western Pennsylvania, where its East and West Branches join together in the town of Johnsonburg. The river winds for 101 miles and confluences with the Allegheny River in the town of Parker, PA. Along its southwest journey, the Clarion River drains 1,252 square miles of land from Clarion, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, and McKean Counties. The watershed is located within the North Central Appalachian Ecoregion, characterized by high hills, low mountains, and narrow valleys. Soils within the watershed are stony, acidic, steep, and low-fertility, which are poorly-suited for agriculture but allow hardwood forests to dominate the landscape.
The Clarion River has National Wild and Scenic River (WSR) designation, which protects and enhances its free-flowing state to promote recreational and scenic values. WSR designation begins near Ridgway, Elk County, and extends for 51.7 miles before entering Piney Dam. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the Wild and Scenic Clarion River in the Allegheny National Forest, Cook Forest State Park, and Clear Creek State Park. Since earning Wild and Scenic designation in 1996, over $2.5 million has been invested into infrastructure to promote public access and recreation in the Wild and Scenic section.
The Clarion River was not always the clear, clean waterbody it is today. Natural resource extraction, particularly mining and logging, thrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s and caused impacts to Clarion River habitat and water quality. Abandoned mines and mine lands throughout the Clarion River watershed have left visible scars observed as acidic, orange water and unrestored hillsides throughout the landscape. In addition to impacts from mining, the hills of the Clarion River were extensively logged for the timber, tanning, and wood chemical industries. Tannins were leached from Hemlock bark to form tannic acid and cure hides into leather. Wood chemical plants converted logs into methanol, acetic acid, and charcoal. The tanning and wood chemical processes produced harmful byproducts which were discharged into the Clarion River or left to leach into soils of the floodplain. Logging harmed the Clarion River by causing pollution, channel alterations, and flow regime changes. Clear cutting hillsides for timber allowed for excessive sediment to wash into the river. Timber was transported to sawmills on the river by storing logs in dams, then releasing them downstream in flood pulses. Logs and flood waters scoured the river to cause over-widened channels and consequently, habitat degradation.
Aquatic communities were impacted and degraded from the aforementioned watershed stressors, but the Clarion River presently supports healthy aquatic communities thanks to many restoration, enhancement, and protection efforts over the years. The Clarion River is a thriving coldwater fishery from its headwaters until its confluence with Mill Creek in Strattanville, where it transitions to a warmwater fishery until its confluence with the Allegheny River. Freshwater mussel populations, in particular, have made an impressive recovery following restoration and reintroduction efforts. The two largest mussel restoration efforts included relocating thousands of mussels to the Clarion River. The eastern hellbender salamander, an indicator of excellent water quality, is recovering and populating the Clarion River, as well. Studies to understand their distribution, home ranges, and habitat in the Clarion River watershed are ongoing.
The Clarion River is a vital connection for people, animals, and habitats throughout northwestern and western Pennsylvania. The river is loved and used by many, as evidenced by the many people who live and recreate in its corridor. Though faced with conservation challenges in the past, the Clarion River has rebounded from a century of degradation and is continuing to recover thanks in part to industries’ modernization and the concerted conservation efforts of many agencies and organizations along its corridor. In light of recent successes and accomplishments in Clarion River restoration, it is the perfect time to celebrate the Clarion River as Pennsylvania’s 2019 River of the Year.
The Clarion is calling...