Outside: Large stream habitat project underway in Center County


Crawler Excavator Operator Terry Allen arranges boulders to create a rock deflector at Sparrow Run as the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Georgia Harbor checks the water depth.

For the CDT

Heavy equipment in a favorite trout stream is usually bad news for fish and anglers. However, that’s exactly what’s happening at Sparrow Run – a major tributary of the upper reaches of Bald Eagle Creek – and that’s good news, not bad.

A major stream restoration project is underway in Taylor Township, Center County. The project covers nearly half a mile of Sparrow Run and includes at least 38 habitat enhancing devices.

“The habitat structures will dramatically improve the survival rate of native brook trout in the creek,” said Bob Vierck, President Emeritus of the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Sparrow Run is a stream that suffers from frequent flooding. The extensive shoreline stabilization structures will significantly reduce sediment and nutrients downstream of Sayers Dam and ultimately Chesapeake Bay. “

At the confluence of the streams near the village of Hannah, Sparrow Run more than doubles the flow of Bald Eagle Creek. The current habitat project covers nearly 2,000 feet of former farmland that suffered major erosion from the stream that was displaced approximately 100 years ago. However, the story affecting Sparrow Run began long before that.

The Hannah Kiln was built around 1830 to produce pig iron. The iron ore was hand mined from the top of the adjacent Bald Eagle mountain and descended to the valley floor with an inclined plane – the ruins of which still exist. Limestone was transported by cart to the stove, and loggers and charcoal burners produced charcoal from hardwoods growing on the adjacent hills. An average stove consumes about 800 bushels of charcoal per day, which is also brought to the stove in rail cars.

During the period of operation, the furnace supported a thriving village and related industries, some of which dammed Sparrow Run to provide water power. This paved the way for some of the issues the stream faces today.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fishing and wildlife partners designed the habitat project in 2018, and then Trout Unlimited, led by Vierck, applied for funding.

According to the project plan, nine mudslides will protect approximately 500 feet of shoreline and provide aerial cover for the fish. Ten rocky transverse vanes will maintain the slope of the stream and shift the flow towards the center of the channel. Excellent fish habitat is often created immediately below the transverse vanes. Seven stone deflectors will protect approximately 480 feet of bank from erosion. Weathervanes and groups of random blocks will provide habitat for the trout. However, the finished product will not exactly follow the plan.

“We designed this project three years ago, and due to the flooding and unstable river banks, we had to make adjustments to our original plan as we went along,” said Adam Smith, a fish and wildlife biologist who leads the Partners for Fish and Wildlife project. “The more than three inches of rain that fell in one day during construction allowed us to see the type of high water we need to design and build for.”

The project started three weeks ago with hemlock logs, large flat-sided rocks and other materials assembled at the site. Several mudflats, rock deflectors and rocky transverse vanes have already been completed. The sowing and mulching carried out with the first devices already germinate grasses and clover.

The $ 137,500 habitat project is largely funded by the Hamer Foundation, with additional funding of $ 9,000 from Trout Unlimited’s Embrace a Stream fund, $ 5,000 from TU’s Spring Creek Chapter, as well as contributions in-kind from Partners for Fish of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. and wildlife. Landowners offer gracious cooperation.

“The year we received the Embrace a Stream grant, Sparrow Run was the top ranked project nationally and the chapter received a bamboo fly rod, which we used to raise an additional one thousand dollars,” said Vierck.

Smith and his team of two to six people expect to complete the project in September.

“For us at USFWS, our priority is always restoring wildlife habitat,” Smith said. “At Sparrow Run, this will help the brook trout and migrating birds along the creek and in the buffer zones – great blue herons, wood ducks, warblers and woodcock in the bottoms and thickets. We recently focused on the benefits of stream restoration for wood turtles.

“At the end of the day, we love to restore waterways and habitat for fish and wildlife,” Smith added. “We especially love restoring streams for landowners, but I generally find that we restore landowners in streams just as much, as well as streams for anyone who uses them. “

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