Written by Danielle Taylor | Photos courtesy of North Point Contracting
With miles of clear, remote, well-stocked streams as well as large populations of wild trout in one of the most beautiful parts of Pennsylvania, Cameron County offers some of the very best trout fishing in the state. However, some older, inadequate infrastructure along Dark Hollow stream in Gibson Township had created a barrier for fish and other aquatic species as well as erosion along the stream banks. To address the issue, the Cameron County Conservation District (CCCD) made use of state-allocated funds to reopen the Elk State Forest waterway, improving both the ecology of the stream and the quality of recreation available on it.
“The old pipe was severely undersized,” says Todd Deluccia, CCCD district manager. When that occurs, he says, “the pipe gets water backing up upstream, then the water starts to swirl and you get streambank erosion. Then on the downstream side, you get a lot of scour. The water shoots out like from a firehose, causing more erosion there on the stream bank.”
The culvert beneath Jerry Run Road that served as a tunnel for Dark Hollow was 36 inches in diameter, much too small for the stream’s current volume. “The pipe was rotten,” Deluccia says. “We also realized it was an aquatic organism passage barrier. At that pipe, fish were unable to get upstream to a robust population of wild trout. When you get a small population that is not dispersing and getting genetic variation, you can end up with a number of issues.”
The Upper Jerry Run watershed has a substantial population of wild brook trout as well as other species like sculpins, darters, and a range of aquatic insects. Given the restrictions created by the existing culvert, CCCD made its replacement a high priority.
To pay for the improvement, Deluccia used funds generated by the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission’s Dirt, Gravel, and Low-Volume Road Maintenance Program, which allocates capital to reduce or eliminate stream pollution caused by runoff and sediment from unpaved and low-volume public roads. After assessing the site, CCCD decided to replace the old three-foot tunnel with a 16-by-five-foot structural arch pipe. Its design encourages gravel to stay flat at the bottom instead of building up, and its width provides the optimal space and flow rate for aquatic species to move freely up- and downstream as nature intended. Deluccia hired Emporium-based North Point Contracting for the job, which they completed earlier this fall.
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is assessing stream-roadway interfaces throughout the watershed, and based on the success of this first project, CCCD is looking at similar sites that could benefit from this type of improvement. One is already in the works on Nanny Run, a brook trout stream in the Bennett Branch watershed.
“Our goal is always to have a thriving fishery,” Deluccia says. “We’re constantly doing things like this to enhance the watershed, and we’re adding this as a new piece of the puzzle.”