Preserving Loyalsock Creek for future generations

MIKE REUTHER/Sun-Gazette Top, Jack Walsh points out a spot on Loyalsock Creek to Steve Szoke.

More than 80 percent of the Loyalsock Creek Watershed is of exceptional value.

That designation by the state Department of Environmental Protection puts the watershed, which includes Loyalsock Creek and its tributaries, in good company.

It means the watershed is under special protections with certain activities prohibited along its streams.

Steve Szoke, Loyalsock Creek Watershed vice president, would like to see it remain of exceptional value.

He and many others have worked hard to see that it stays a destination for trout anglers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

“This stream has changed dramatically,” he said.

Flooding from heavy rains such as that occurring along Loyalsock Creek last October are the most recent testament to that change.

At Hillsgrove, flooding wreaked havoc with Mill Creek, a Loyalsock Creek tributary, overflowing its banks and damaging properties.

A bridge in the village along Route 87 was destroyed, creating detours for motorists throughout the late fall and winter.

Trees, vegetation and soil were washed away, leaving behind barren stretches of nothing but dirt and sand along streambanks.

The flooding, while devastating to parts of the watershed, left many other areas untouched.

Nothing can be done about Mother Nature.

However, stream restoration projects done throughout the watershed are helping ensure that some of the acts of nature and mankind are kept at bay.

“Loyalsock is improving,” said Szoke.

Szoke should know.

The Forksville resident spends a lot of time involved in stream restoration and angling for trout all up and down Loyalsock Creek and its tributaries and he’ll happily point out some of his favorite fishing spots.

The passion for fishing likely feeds the need to make sure the Loyalsock Watershed remains in good shape for others to enjoy.

He stops along Elk Creek north of Hillsgrove to show some of the work that has been done there in recent years.

Log vanes placed along several hundred feet of the south side of the stream divert water to the middle of the creek and away from the streambank to prevent erosion.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, Sullivan County Conservation District and Chief Oil and Gas worked together to make the project happen, Szoke noted.

Some of the log vanes got washed away in last year’s flooding.

“Hopefully, we will be able to get them back in place this year,” Szoke said.

Downstream, mudsills were installed to provide cover and habitat for trout.

Szoke said as much natural rock and debris from stream as possible are used for the work.

Jack Walsh, 76, fell in love with Loyalsock Creek as a young man, so much so that, after retiring from a job in Philadelphia, he made a cabin that he bought along the stream his permanent home.

His residence overlooking the creek is close enough to the stream that he has no problem hearing the roar of the water. He can peer down from the streambank and see trout holding in the current below.

The stream provides a soothing sound, but also reminds him of the perilous dangers of a stream the force of the Loyalsock can pack.

“This is nothing like it used to be,” he said as he looked out on the stream.

Heavy flooding, such as that caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, pummeled sections of the stream, eroding streambanks and ripping out trees, and altering the creek.

Luckily, last year’s flooding did not affect the stream where he lives.

Still, he’s very much aware of the stream and what it can do.

He was happy when several log vanes were put in along the stream by the Loyalsock Creek Watershed below his property to prevent potential streambank erosion there.

“We helped him out,” Szoke said.

Birch Creek, another tributary of Loyalsock Creek, has benefitted from those concerned about clean water.

For many years, mine acid runoff along a hillside near Lopez in Sullivan County was finding its way into Birch Creek.

Szoke stood beside a pond that catches much of the runoff.

Here, the water is funnelled to a larger treatment pond by pipes over a limestone bed to neutralize the water’s acidity. A mushroom compost covering the stone bed prevents the limestone from oxidizing.

At the discharge site, the water has been registering a pH level of 7.0 to 7.2, Szoke noted.

A pH of 7 is considered neutral, signifying low acidity and good water quality. The further below 7, the more the acidity.

The treatment process helps prevent highly acidic water contaminated with metallic matter from finding its way into streams, which could adversely affect aquatic life and water quality.

The Loyalsock Creek Watershed and other environmental groups have partnered on this particular project which is being monitored by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“We are working to be acid free,” Szoke said.