The Stonycreek is a resurrected river! Considered dead just a generation ago from abandoned-mine drainage, this river now supports life throughout its 46-mile length. The 468 square-mile watershed, bordered by the Allegheny Front and Laurel Ridge, contains rolling farmland, active and reclaimed strip mines, woodlands, and classic former coal-mining communities.
The Stonycreek River is a classic freestone river that begins at Pius Spring in Berlin Borough and flows to the north for 46 miles to the Point in Johnstown. There it merges with the Little Conemaugh River to form the Conemaugh River. The Stony's major tributaries include Glades Creek, Wells Creek, Beaverdam Creek, Quemahoning Creek, Shade Creek, Paint Creek and Bens Creek. Altogether, the Stonycreek drains 468 square miles just west of the Eastern Continental Divide. Its headwaters form at elevations exceeding 2,900 feet above sea level on the Allegheny Ridge to the east and Laurel Ridge to the west, while its mouth in Johnstown is at 1,150 feet.
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Pollution of the once-pristine Stonycreek Corridor started around the turn of the 20th century, when loggers clear-cut hillside tracts of virgin white pine and hemlock, and coal companies developed underground mines. The clear-cutting destroyed ecosystems and encouraged top-soil runoff. Coal operators created huge waste piles called "boney" that fouled adjacent streams. When companies closed or abandoned mines, they flooded them with water. That water became highly acidic, leached metals such as iron, aluminum and manganese, then worked its way to the surface. Abandoned-mine drainage (AMD) killed aquatic life throughout the river system and rendered much of the Stonycreek River all-but devoid of life for most of the 20th century.
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The Stonycreek's recovery began with significant changes in mining activity, starting in the 1980s, and second-growth forests once again filtering the landscape. But killer AMD discharges still were blocking most aquatic life from the river downstream of Kantner. Coalitions of local, state and federal groups collaborated effectively to install passive treatment systems (wetlands) for three heavily impacted streams, Oven Run, Pokeytown Run and Quemahoning Creek. The overall result of recent decades of nature's self-healing, changes in mining practices, and effective passive treatment is the renewal of life throughout the Stonycreek, from its headwaters to its confluence with the Little Conemaugh.
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Stonycreek-Quemahoning Initiative is a 501(c)(3) and a supporting organization of Conemaugh Valley Conservancy
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