Environmental conservation of our waterways and land in the United States is key to sustainability. Conservation organizations, landowners, and volunteers spend hours working together to preserve and maintain our waterways’ natural beauty and health. These organizations and their volunteers work to remove a wide variety of inorganic items from waterways, including tires, household appliances, plastics, clothing, glass, and cement blocks. In addition, they work to restore and maintain riparian buffer zones, strips of grasslands, forested areas, wetlands, and farmlands that provide shade and protection along the waterways tract to help enhance water quality. Their actions restore many of our creeks and rivers to their natural beauty and bring them back to life.
One of these organizations is the French Creek Valley Conservancy.
Established in 1982 is the Conneaut Lake-French Creek Conservancy and now named the French Creek Valley Conservancy, concerned citizens formed it to address serious issues facing these important Pennsylvania waterways. French Creek feeds into Conneaut Lake, which is Pennsylvania’s largest lake. Conneaut Lake is an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and about the same distance when traveling east from Cleveland, Ohio.
Our waterways offer abundant outdoor recreation activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, and watching birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and invertebrates in their natural habitats.
Unfortunately, some of these waters are becoming unsuitable for recreation or wildlife habitat. Pollution from raw sewage, stormwater runoff, trash, mine drainage, and industrial chemicals such as herbicides for weed control make these bodies of water unfit for recreation and supporting wildlife species.
On a recent canoe paddling day trip along French Creek, we learned that this waterway is nationally recognized as one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the United States.
We were thrilled to see a bald eagle soaring above us when we slid our canoe into the water. We knew immediately that this nine-mile adventure would be unique and special. We didn’t think we would see more of these majestic eagles as we floated along the creek.
French Creek is alive with bird songs from migrating birds.
With the help of the Merlin Bird App, we identified over 40 birds. If you are a birder, you would be in awe of the 379 species of birds that make this great creek their home. For many birds, it is year-round.
The banks of the streams and rivers flourish with several hues of greenery from various ferns, maple, oak, walnut, spruce, wild flowering apple trees in full bloom, and several types of shrubs. Some of the trees appear to be hundreds of years old. With bank erosion from heavy rains and flooding, you can see how high the water once was. As we continued our paddle, we took note of the massive roots on many of the trees exposed on the eroded creek banks. We were amazed that the trees didn’t topple over from the excessive weight above the ground. Native and non-native spring ephemerals such as Dame’s Rocket, Philadelphia Fleabane, Wild Geraniums, Golden Alexander, Common Milkweed, Yellow Buttercups, Violets in purple, white, and yellow colors, Columbine, Sweet Cicely, Purple Crown Vetch, and invasive Japanese Knotweed are just some of the plants we identified along the way.
French Creek has abundant wildlife, as we witnessed firsthand. We spotted freshwater mussels, amphibians, reptiles, fish, Tiger Swallow Butterflies, and Red-spotted Butterflies, among other species.
According to the French Creek Valley Conservancy, “the French Creek watershed contains over 80 species of fish and 27 of Pennsylvania’s approximately 65 species of native freshwater mussels, including threatened and endangered, the most diverse population of any stream in the state and any stream further north and east in the nation. Mussels require clean, oxygen-rich water to filter food and absorb dissolved oxygen. In the microscopic larval stage, they often attach to fish gills such as darters and are transported to different sites on the stream. As a result, their distribution and number are directly linked to the host fish’s survival.”
To learn more about waterways near you, visit your local water conservation organization and federal, state, and local parks.
These organizations support aquatic science, riparian plantings, aquatic connectivity and species passage, safety on the waterways, canoe/kayak access development, watershed grant programs, and additional resources to inspire you to get involved.
Let us take action to joyfully preserve and sustain our natural world and its inhabitants for future generations. Download our One Planet Life app to access other insightful posts, resources, and organizations that you can participate in and track your actions.