French Creek named River of the Year by POWR


French Creek River, located six minutes north of Allegheny College, was recently named River of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Resources and the PA Organization for Waterways and Rivers. In the beginning of the contest, French Creek was holding 48% of the votes, thus making them in the lead as of January 5th, according to The Meadville Tribune.
POWR has held the River of the Year contest since 1983, making this the 39th year for the competition. lists all of the nominated rivers and some special traits they all hold. All the rivers nominated include Catawissa Creek, Connoquenessing Creek, Monongahela River, and French Creek.
One of French Creek’s special attributes is that it is very biodiverse, and this is partly due to the underdevelopment of our surrounding area that directly helps to preserve the wildlife within the watershed. Evidently, French Creek is a home for 27 species of freshwater mussels and over 80 species of fish. The area also has four Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas.
The POWR website states that “French Creek hosts more species than most any waterway of its size in the United States.”
The purpose for the IBA’s within the area is a conservation effort implemented to strategically connect conservation islands and to keep track of where endangered species are.
“Individuals buy these land trusts and actually own the property or the property easements — a legal thing with the deed, the person who buys it has their own restrictions,” said Director of Creek Connections Wendy Kedzierski. “And it is our job to monitor those areas and make sure people understand.”
French Creek is also home to the Eastern Hellbender. This amphibian is a native to eastern and central US and they acted as a great internet campaign when promoting French Creek for the contest. According to POWR, the Eastern Hellbender is the largest species of salamander in North America and was recently named the official Pennsylvania State Amphibian.
“Our hellbenders post was our highest liked social media post,” Kedzierski said.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of French Creek Valley Conservancy being formed, and according to french creek, John and Betty Bailey created the conservancy in 1982 in response to the proposed use of chemical herbicides to control the abundant weed growth in Conneaut Lake.
The website further states that, “The organization was formed along with other concerned citizens and was administered by a volunteer board of directors from 1982 until 2008 when the first part-time Project Manager was hired.”
In 1995 two Allegheny College professors, James Palmer, departments of environmental science and biology, and Mark Lord, department of geology established Creek Connections, “-with the hopes of building a successful collaboration between Allegheny and local public schools,” Connections states.
The website further states that this educational project began with six schools, but now there are over 40 secondary schools and over 50 teachers involved with Creek Connections. From the very beginning, the project’s mission was to bring regional public schools an authentic natural science research experience and an appreciation for local waterways.
“Personally I’m interested in conservation and engaging students within the watershed,” said Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability Kelly Pearce, demonstrating the original mission of the project.
Another role of the program is to “oversee interdisciplinary research over the region,” said Pearce.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability/ Department of Biology Casey Bradshaw-Wilson and Pearce are both Co-Directors for the Watershed Conservation and Research Center, and therefore both do research within the area. Bradshaw-Wilson’s focus is freshwater organisms and Pearce’s are mostly terrestrial animals, but with a focus on the river otter.
French Creek previously won the competition in 2003, and people have been wondering when the conservancy was going to nominate French Creek again, according to Kedzierski. The executive director of French Creek Valley Conservancy and Allegheny College alumnae, Brenda Costa nominated French Creek purposefully this year, according to Kedzierski, in order to celebrate the anniversary. Kedzierski hopes that the $10,000 prize awarded to the winner will assist the French Creek Valley Conservancy in hosting events throughout.