The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


September 25, 2010

Group nursing creek to health

STONINGTON — Behind waist-high fields of goldenrod and grasses, briars and bushes, Little Shamokin Creek winds through trees and dappled sunlight. To the undiscerning eye, the waterway looks fine.

But it hasn’t been.

Bob Herman and Ted Carodiskey have high hopes for the creek, and it is responding, with help from their group and the state.

Getting the land “was hurdle No. 1,” said Carodiskey, secretary for the nonprofit Little Shamokin Creek Watershed Association, which recently bought a 27-acre parcel tract on Houser Road, Rockefeller Township, Northumberland County, formerly owned by Bob and Bobbi Long.

Little Shamokin Creek runs about a half-mile through the property.

“For two or three years, we pursued buying this land,” Carodiskey said.

Carodiskey said a private foundation, which he declined to identify, funded the $180,000 purchase.

Hurdle No. 2 is bringing Little Shamokin Creek back to good health.

Sunbury residents Herman and Carodiskey, along with Jaci Harner, a watershed specialist with the Northumberland County Conservation District who helps the group with its projects, know the story the vegetation, water level and natural formations in the creek tells them.

Little Shamokin Creek is a sub-watershed of Shamokin Creek. It runs through Rockefeller, Shamokin, and Upper and Lower Augusta townships. Eventually, its waters enter the Susquehanna river, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Protecting the watershed and its environs was the motivation behind the purchase, according to Herman. The watershed is largely forested, though agricultural areas account for about 30 percent of the land and developed areas, about 2 percent.

When the watershed group started in 2002, “It was a grass-roots effort through the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection),” Herman said. “They were pushing for volunteers because they didn’t have enough manpower to improve all the streams in Pennsylvania.”

The group wants to create an environmental education center for school and youth groups, and other organizations. A turn-of-the-century home on the property is a possible location for the education center.

But that may be Hurdle No. 3 or 4.

Right now, Little Shamokin Creek is on Hurdle No. 2.

Mowing and clearing took away a lot of the creek’s natural runoff protection, evidenced by the vertical banks where the earth drops off sharply at spots along the creek bed.

“The vegetative buffer serves as a filter, keeping runoff and soil out of the creek,” Harner said. Without it, the soil erodes, silt collects and the stream becomes a tough place for fish and organisms to live and protective vegetation to grow.

That’s a problem for the water, because the silt will cover and get underneath rocks and points in the creek where micro-invertebrates grow. They’re the food source for minnows, which are the food source for trout, which are the food source for herons. The whole food chain suffers.

Harner lifted a few rocks from the stream and showed how on the undersides, some small critters are now living.

“That’s a sign of the water’s health,” she said.

She noted some water-penny beetles, flat little bugs whose presence can be used as a test for water quality. They cannot live where rocks acquire a thick layer of algae, fungi or inorganic sediment. So their presence can mean good quality water.

The Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy helped install three streambed stabilization banks, costing about $3,000 a piece. They’re correcting the creek’s flow, the Valley trio explained, catching it and diverting it in a way that takes the energy off the banks and keeps the soil from eroding. Some plants have taken root on top of the banks and are filling in spots nicely, another positive sign, Herman noted.

At a particular spot downstream from the last stabilization bank, the creek bends into a fishing hole. Herman guesses it’s about 3 feet deep. The fishing hole also has eroding banks and not as many trees as it once did.

“We’ve been spreading some seed here to get grasses growing again,” Herman said. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been stocking the creek with trout in the spring, and Herman hopes the recovering ecosystem in the water will keep the food chain going.

A bit upstream where the land is clearer, what looks like a log wall lines the creek. Those are really long vein deflectors, and they correct the stream in another way, according to Harner. They’re built in such a that they capture sediment, which collects and helps rebuild the bank. They also serve as a habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Nothing goes to waste on this project, as Harner pointed out a root wad, essentially the bottom of an uprooted tree that provides a natural filtration and protection, she said.

“Eventually, nature comes in and takes its course,” said Harner, while Carodiskey noted two very large trees that had fallen across the stream since last winter’s heavy snows.

“We’re hoping a lot of things straighten out naturally here,” Carodiskey said.

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