The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 11, 2013

River Watchers pick up big environmental award


MERCER COUNTY — When the Shenango River near Pymatuning State Park was clogged with forest debris, the Shenango River Watchers harnessed some unique horsepower to clear the river and open it to recreation. Their novel approach to conservation will be honored with a 2013 Western Pennsylvania Environmental Award, that has been announced by Dominion and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Representatives of the Shenango River Watchers will accept the award at the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards Dinner and Awards Ceremony May 23 at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. The award is presented for leadership, effectiveness and results in making an impact on the environment by Dominion and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and includes a $5,000 donation.

The Shenango River spans 23 miles under a mature canopy forest near Pennsylvania’s second largest state park. Unfortunately, an accumulation of downed trees made the river impassable and dangerous to recreational paddlers. Paddling club blogs and websites warned kayakers to avoid the Shenango totally due to this condition. Consequently, outfitters could no longer do business along the river and local boat retailers gave up carrying canoes or kayaks.

The biggest challenge was to figure out how to remove the blockage. Moving from one blockage to the next required a constant back and forth from road to river, with damage to lawns and pasture from the heavy equipment that would be required.

So the Shenango River Watchers used Amish loggers and their draft horse teams to haul away the debris and clear the river. This method avoided disruption to the river bank and private property and resulted in minimal impact on the environment.

The river is now open and paddler friendly. Scores of blockages have been reduced while nesting eagles were protected, endangered mussels unaffected, stream banks reinforced, and water quality improved. An outfitter has opened for business and recreation has returned to the river attracting paddlers from more than four neighboring states.

This project is one of five winners from throughout Western Pennsylvania chosen by a group of independent judges of environmental experts and Pennsylvania Environmental Council staff in response to a call for entries earlier this year.

All entries were judged on the basis of their relevance to local environmental priorities, evidence of their impact on the environment, their approach to solving an environmental problem, and the environmental benefit of their work.

The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards recognizes and honors outstanding achievements of organizations, businesses, and individuals in a wide range of environmental initiatives throughout the region and pays tribute to those that have demonstrated a commitment to environmental excellence, leadership, and accomplishment in their respective fields.

By sponsoring these awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Dominion hope to encourage the community to emulate the achievements of the successful nominees, thereby promoting innovative environmental efforts and enhancing the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania.

The awards program is funded by Dominion.