Giving Nature A Hand

In 2011, the low-head dam came out of Morrison Run.

This week, the stream where the dam used to be, just north of the railroad viaduct, is being stabilized and further improved to the benefit of fish.

The project is a combined effort involving Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU), the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (FBC), the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), and the Allegheny National Forest, and involves Fox and Sons Excavating and Sheffield Timber.

FBC Stream Habitat Manager Mark Sausser designed the construction.

The project includes more than 75 yards of the creek’s path.

Morrison Run, despite a past featuring extensive damages from timber and oil development in the area, is an exceptional-value trout stream and cold water fishery, according to Trout Unlimited.

“The ANF was looking for a lead agency and we jumped at the chance,” TU’s Mike Fadale said. “We’re a cold-water conservation organization. This is right up our alley.”

“We’ve been involved with funding and permitting through WPC,” he said. “The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy was instrumental in our getting the funding. The hardest part is getting the permits and the conservancy was instrumental in that, too.”

The organizations are working with a $30,000 U.S. Forest Service Secure Rural Schools Act grant and dollars from Title II “to restore aquatic organism passage and improve in-stream habitat in Morrison Run,” according to WPC Watershed Manager Kylie Maland.

The logs for the project were donated by Sheffield Timber, Sausser said.

“This is the culmination of this phase of our Morrison Run Watershed Improvement Project,” Fadale said.

Removing the dam and the current post-dam-removal project are only pieces of a long-term puzzle.

“We’ve been working for the last five years on the upper section putting structures in the stream there,” Fadale said.

Many of those projects have to be done by hand, but the efforts are working.

“The fishing up above is outstanding,” Fadale said. “It is a very productive native brook trout stream.”

The current project will provide habitat, particularly giving young fish the chance to grow larger, and improve passage conditions in the lower part of the stream, allowing fish to move upstream to find the conditions necessary for spawning.

“Trout require very specific conditions to reproduce,” ANF Fisheries Biologist Nathan Welker said. “When things start to warm up in the main stem of the river, these tributaries give fish a thermal refuge.”

“We’re trying to make it a better home for them,” Sausser said.

The post-removal project will result in hundreds of tons of rock placed along the streambank and dozens of logs creating a variety of structures intended to keep the stream flowing near its present course without excessive erosion.

“We’re not trying to change the stream channel,” Fadale said. “We just want to stabilize the riparian (stream bank) areas so it doesn’t erode. We’re letting nature take its course.”

The terminology is not commonplace: upstream angles, single- and multi-log vanes, modified mud sills, root wads, cross vanes.

But the ideas are pretty basic: keep high-flow events from eroding the banks, limit the formation of deep and long pools while encouraging some smaller pools, provide cover in the water, and generally slow the water down a little.

“It creates a suitable habitat – scour pools and deeper runs where the fish will hold,” Fadale said.

Fish spend time in places where they don’t have to work hard and where they can find food relatively easily, Fadale said.

The next project is a little upstream. “We’re in the process of getting funding and design to eliminate another fish passage barrier just below the Warren Archery Club,” Fadale said.