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  • Frank Zettle

Stream Restoration Projects Undertaken by the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited

Authors: Frank Zettle, Robert Vierck, Art Kempf, Robert Carline

The Early Years

The Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited (SCCTU) was founded in 1973, and one of its first projects was to organize a stream cleanup. These annual cleanups have continued until the present and are now organized by ClearWater Conservancy. The Chapter’s first stream restoration project involved stream bank repair and trout habitat improvement on Spring Creek in the vicinity of Neidigh Quarry (now Hanson Quarry) upstream of Lemont.

Photos 1-3. Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited initiates an annual watershed cleanup. Photo credit: SCCTU.

In 1977 the Chapter completed a major project on Thompson Run that preserved cold temperatures and good water quality by diverting the stream around the Duck Pond (see Restoration of Thompson Run - A Tribute to Joe Humphreys). Other conservation projects involved planting trees to increase stream shading in riparian areas. And, the Chapter was able obtain access easements along Spring Creek in the vicinity of State Route 26 and near the confluence with Buffalo Run.

Stream Restoration on Agricultural Lands

Studies by the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (U.S. Geological Survey) showed that in the middle portion of Spring Creek, a stretch of about 5 miles, natural reproduction by wild brown trout was substantially reduced by siltation of spawning sites or redds.  Stream surveys indicated that much of this siltation was originating from unfenced pastures. These results prompted the Chapter to undertake a major effort to reduce siltation in the watershed.  The project was initiated in 1989, and was completed in 1998.

The first project involved stream bank restoration and fence installation on Penn State University’s sheep farm near the confluence of Slab Cabin Run and Spring Creek. Penn State, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the Chapter provided funding and materials. The benefits of this type of restoration project may be evident soon after completion. In this instance, two years after the project was completed, densities of wild trout improved by about 60%.

Photos 4-6. The Sheep Farm project. 1988 – 1992 Before, during and after stream bank restoration. Photo credit: R. Carline.

The next phase of the project was directed at Slab Cabin Run upstream of South Atherton Street, where there was 2.55 miles of unfenced pastures with unstable, eroding banks. Ten landowners agreed to participate in the project that included installation of streamside fences, construction of rock-lined animal crossing, and active stabilization of stream banks. Improvements, which varied among properties, totaled 18,000 feet of fence, 26 crossings, and 1,875 feet of stabilized bank.

Restoration efforts then moved to Cedar Run, where agreements were established with eight landowners. Improvements included more than 13,000 feet of fence, 14 crossings, and more than 200 feet of actively stabilized stream banks.

The last phase of the project included six properties on the main stem of Spring Creek downstream of Houserville. One of the properties was in agriculture, several were commercial properties and two were on public lands. Improvements on upstream tributaries and the main stem of Spring Creek totaled more than 37,000 feet of fence and more than 6,000 feet of repaired stream banks.

Several years after restoration work was completed on Slab Cabin Run and Cedar Run, surveys were done to measure responses. Fenced stream banks quickly re-vegetated with nearly 100% coverage. The amount of total suspended solids during storm flow decreased by 67 to 86%, indicating a significant reduction in erosion – the ultimate goal of this project. The most noteworthy response of wild brown trout was the increase in the number of spawning sites (redds) downstream of Houserville. Redd numbers increased from 13/mile in 1987 and 1988 to 76/mile from 1997 to 2019.

Projects Completed Since 2000

Most of these projects resulted from a geomorphic assessment of a 20-mile stretch of Spring Creek by LandStudies Inc. that identified and prioritized impaired stream reaches in need of habitat restoration.

To mitigate sedimentation and erosion in streams, there are several kinds of structures that can be built into the streambed and banks to manage the flow of water so that erosion is reduced. These also improve fish habitat by creating spaces where fish can shelter and where debris collects and supports the aquatic life that nourishes fish. Boulders can perform these functions, but more complex deflectors are usually required. These structures are made of piles of rocks or rocks contained in log frames shaped to deflect flow to midstream. Deflectors can also be made of secured brush or wads of tree roots that also catch debris. Another kind of structure is a mudsill that stabilizes banks and creates an undercut bank for fish cover. The projects listed below utilized these “devices” as well as streamside planting of native vegetation to create shade and reduce erosion. To learn more about stream restoration construction, go to Habitat Improvement for Trout Streams.

SCCTU projects include:

McCoy – Linn Dam Removal (2 projects) – The McCoy-Linn dam was built in 1796 to drive waterwheels and turbines for the Harmony and Milesburg Iron Works. Part 1 of this project involved removing the dam and re-establishing the stream channel that was lost by the flooding that was created above the dam.

Photo 7. 2007 McCoy-Linn Dam removal project. Photo credit: SCCTU.

Part 2 was habitat enhancement, a difficult project from a logistics standpoint because the site is not accessible for volunteers to bring in plant material and equipment without crossing Spring Creek. The solution was the rescue boat from Milesburg First Citizen's Hook and Ladder #1.

Photo 8. Access to plant over 2000 native trees and shrubs provided volunteers from multiple organizations and emergency transport by the Milesburg volunteer fire department Photo credit: R. Vierck.

Penn State Sheep Farm–Part 2 of this previously mentioned project continued to address severe sedimentation and stream bank erosion in the upper reaches the stream.

Spring Creek Park - This 3,100-foot stretch of stream was impacted from years of intensive public use and stormwater runoff from development. Stream bank erosion and excessive sedimentation was evident throughout the entire stretch. Although this project installed a number of in-stream devices and riparian plantings, habitat preservation here will continue to be a challenge due to the impact of high public utilization in the Park and ongoing storm water issues, especially in the PSU Sheep Farm stretch below the confluence of Spring Creek and Slab Cabin Run.

PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC), State Route 550 Access and “The Distillery” At the site of the Beezer Distillery (1874), significant erosion of the west bank was occurring that was not only removing significant amounts of the west bank but was threatening to undercut the footbridge located in the middle of the stretch. In addition to erosion mitigation, habitat work was completed by SCCTU volunteers in partnership with PFBC in two phases.

Photo 9. Log diverter after installation. Photo credit: R. Vierck.

Fisherman’s Paradise (2 projects) Several in-stream devices were added to the west side of the stream, and further downstream brush deflectors were installed to trap sediment and encourage stabilization of the stream bank. In the second part of the project, two parking lots were regraded to divert stormwater away from Spring Creek and into swales so that the stormwater would infiltrate to the stream reducing impurities and avoiding temperature spikes.

Buffalo Run (Benner Park) - In total, 17 devices were installed in a 650-foot stretch of Buffalo Run. More than 300 tons of stone were utilized to create the habitat structures. Significant work was also done to protect highly eroded stream bank sections.

Harris Township Riparian Planting – Clearwater Conservancy planted 2,500 native trees and shrubs along the upper reaches of Spring Creek to improve the bank stability, cool and protect the water and decrease erosion.

Slab Cabin Run Homeowner Improvement Demo 2014 Spring Creek Chapter of TU sponsored a “Backyard Makeover” contest in 2014. Streamside home-owners competed for a “free” landscaping that would be habitat and stream friendly. The project was called "Return the roots - runoff pollutes" and included several features: mailing of "My Healthy Stream" to 200 streamside property owners located from Pine Grove Mills to Houserville; two public information sessions about the value of proper homeowner stewardship along the stream; and a "backyard makeover" contest to select a homeowner for a free landscape improvement consistent with good streamside practices. Landscaping the property along Spring Creek to natural rooted trees and shrubs, pollinator garden plants, and providing a view for the homeowner was done by the TU chapter.

Milesburg Bank Stabilization and Riparian Planting – 2013-2014 Deflectors were installed in the upper section and riparian planting along 200 feet of stream. Work in the lower section included a 200-foot mudsill and 300 feet of riparian planting. An interpretive sign was erected at the entrance to the Milesburg Community Park. Children were invited to come to the construction and receive instruction on bugs, knots, and casting as well as the benefits of conservation as part of a Buffer Buddies program.

Rock Road Stormwater Abatement and Riparian Planting – 2014

This project includes a significant parking lot improvement to rechannel stormwater that was flowing freely into Spring Creek from the road to the unimproved parking lot and into the stream. It also includes 350 feet of riparian planting.

Oak Hall Bank Stabilization and Riparian Planting 2015/2016 – This project includes two 200-foot mudsills on bends in Spring Creek as well as 600 feet of riparian plantings. The project was difficult due to the wetlands access.

Bellefonte Flood Wall – After the streamside Bush House Hotel burned down, Bellefonte Borough Council decided to develop the waterfront to revitalize the historic town. A floodwall and pedestrian walkway were built along Spring Creek. SCCTU together with the Pa Fish and Boat Commission installed in-stream habitat improvements along the length of the flood wall.

Photo 10. Installation of four log deflectors along the Bellefonte Flood Wall. The ends of the logs are submerged and rocks anchor the shoreward ends. Photo credit: R. Vierck.

Rock Road Bank Stabilization 2018 This reach of Spring Creek lacked diverse cover for fish and the stream bottom was excessively silty from eroding stream banks. Five structures were installed and native trees and shrubs were planted along 315 feet of stream.

Photos 11 and 12. Before and after – the parking lot was canted back away from Spring Creek and an infiltration pond created to stop the flow of stormwater directly through the parking lot and into the stream. Photo credit: R. Vierck.

Houserville Bank Stabilization and Revitalization 2019 The project includes installing structures such as mudsills, several types of deflectors, debris jam removals, a willow branch bank reinforcement, the installation of a 1-acre pollinator plot, 1.25 acres of poison hemlock treatment, and 5 acres of riparian restoration.

Photos 13 and 14. Before and after pictures of section of Houserville project. Notice significant undercutting of the bank in the first picture. Photo credit: R. Vierck.

Gordon D. Kissinger Meadow (Slab Cabin Run) – 2017– 2019 Slab Cabin Run, a major tributary to Spring Creek, supplies much of the drinking water to the State College region. The area was previously agricultural and completely lacked a riparian buffer and pollinator garden which was installed along the length of the stream owned by Centre Region Parks and Recreation


It is estimated that more than $1,500,000 has been raised and spent on improvements to Spring Creek since 1990, not including the Penn State expenses to create the Millbrook Marsh. The result has been substantial, including:

· 31 projects undertaken and completed

· Restoration of 22 acres of habitat

· Reduction of nitrogen leaving the watershed of 14,000 pounds annually

· Reduction of phosphorus leaving the watershed of 3,350 pounds annually

· 834 tons of sediment reduction

· 7,200 trees and shrubs planted

Many partners and community volunteers were involved in the habitat projects including the PA Fish and Boat Commission, ClearWater Conservancy, Centre County Conservation District, Penn State University, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Owing to the efforts of all of these organizations and thousands of hours of volunteer help, Spring Creek and its tributaries now have much improved habitats and much improved water quality. More detail regarding Spring Creek restoration projects is available here.

Frank Zettle wrote the original history of the Spring Creek Chapter in 1992; he passed away in 2015. Vierck, Kempf, and Carline are current members of the Chapter.


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