Tag Archives: american rivers

Hope Floats

Summer is packed with reasons to go outside – fishing, boating, or just taking a walk. On a somewhat cloudy and misty June day, 160 paddlers from 6 states went outside to Float the Fork from Good Hope, West Virginia to West Milford – 6 miles downstream. Indeed, after 9 years of negotiations, plans, and hard work, folks were ready to go outside and celebrate a restored West Fork River!

Removing three dams on the river back in 2016 improved boat access and fish passage along the West Fork. But perhaps more importantly to local residents like Clarksburg Water Board Member Al Cox, the river could become a tourist destination and a place to hold fun community events.

Guardians of the West Fork Watershed hosted the first event on June 2, 2018 – Float the Fork – along with partners including American Rivers, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, West Milford United Methodist Church, the town of West Milford and the Service’s West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, CKB Airport also helped shuttle paddlers to and from the river.

Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a picnic with food from local vendors and learned about plans for West Milford Park.

It’s the end of the Float, but not the end of the celebration. Credit_ Haley Hutchins, AmeriCorpsJPG

A river walking trail and park are a couple of the other projects that have been launched by the collaboration hoping to restore the river’s recreational and economic potential.

The West Fork River flows north 103 miles, meandering through the valleys of north-central West Virginia until it joins with the Tygart Valley River to form the Monongahela River (or the Mon’ as the locals would say).

Although the area is dominated by forest and pasture land, coal mining had been a mainstay of the region’s economic livelihood from the 1800s to the 1970s.

In the early 1900s, four small dams were constructed south of Clarksburg, WV  – the West Milford, Two Lick, Highland, and Hartford – for drinking water and irrigation.

The dams blocked the river for more than a century. By the late 1990s, the West Fork River and its 98 tributaries were on West Virginia DEP’s list of impaired rivers. Three of the dams became obsolete after the construction of the Stonewall Jackson Dam in 1996.

After a series of tragic accidents, landowners, county officials, state and federal agencies, and a community watershed group came together to navigate a solution for repairing the broken river.

The West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian FWCO proposed removing the obsolete West Milford, Two Lick and Highland Dams. Problems at the Hartford Dam would be mitigated by installing fish passage modifications. Removing barriers to fish passage  would improve and increase the amount of suitable habitat for fish and other aquatic life, as well as, improve fishing and boating opportunities, promote safety, improve water quality, and reduce flood risks to nearby communities.

The project took years of building trust and planning. Eventually, the collaboration gained community support to move forward with the project – remove the dams, restore the river-banks, and build a trail and park that would connect everyone to the river. A cleanup effort led by the Service and volunteers removed more than 61,000 pounds of trash from the river – including 1,212 tires, several televisions, and even a car.

This would mark West Virginia’s most significant river restoration effort and first dam removal project. Since the deconstruction of these century old dams in 2016, fish move freely through 491 miles of streams and tributaries. And the Clarksburg Water Board reports a savings of at least $50,000 dollars a year in water treatment costs.

Damages to the environment can take a lifetime to repair. But removing the ‘kinks in the line,’ allowing rivers and streams to run free, can go a long way towards restoring rivers and the quality of our water. When nature takes its course, sediments are distributed naturally and sustain good fish habitat, nutrients and contaminants break down as they move through the system, and fish return.

More of the beautiful West Fork, WV. Credit_ Haley Hutchins, AmeriCorps

The West Fork River restoration shows us how hope, integrity and perseverance can be a catalyst for restoration and how it doesn’t always take decades to see results.The actual repair and resulting improvements took only 2 years to realize.

I don’t live in West Virginia, and may never get to the West Fork, but I feel a lot better knowing another place in our world has been restored. Thanks for giving us hope y’all!

Beyond the dam, a new vision for resilient communities

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

There was a time when small dams throughout the Northeast were the cores of their communities. Often the next major structure to be built after the church, the dam harnessed waterpower to process corn for sustenance and lumber for shelter. Later, dams produced energy to make textiles to be shipped far and wide, providing jobs and pumping dollars into local economies. Still others offered chances for recreation like swimming and fishing.

These days, many small dams have not only outlived their usefulness, they are liabilities for wildlife and local communities. Thousands in the Northeast are obsolete and not maintained. More than 25 percent are high-hazard, posing a big risk of failure that could flood nearby areas. Once central to community life, many dams are now barriers to progress, impeding economic growth, recreation, and tourism, while also blocking wildlife migration.


The removal of Two Lick Dam, one of three dams removed from West Virginia’s West Fork  River in 2016, allowed more than 30 miles of the river to flow freely. This encourages a healthier river that flushes nutrients, pollutants and sediment, supporting thriving fish and freshwater mussel populations and enhanced fishing for smallmouth bass and muskellunge. Credit: USFWS

American Rivers, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., announced in February a list of 72 dams that were removed from waterways across the country in 2016, restoring more than 2,100 miles of river and stream habitat to a free-flowing state. Thirty-one were in the Northeast, with Pennsylvania leading the country for the 14th straight time, at 10.

The list includes several projects supported by the Service, such as removal of Hughesville Dam on the Musconetcong River in New Jersey, which will help restore fish and wildlife and water quality in this federally designated Wild and Scenic River. Or the removal of three dams on the West Fork River in West Virginia, which opened up 490 miles of habitat for endangered freshwater mussels and native species of fish, increased recreational access for paddlers on the water trail, and is even helping the Clarksburg Water Board save money on chemical costs to treat water.

Since 2009, the Service has worked with partners from Maine to West Virginia to remove more than 450 barriers to fish passage — including dams, culverts, and road-stream crossings — and connect nearly 4,000 miles of rivers, creeks, and wetlands. Since 2013, federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects has supported the removal of seven dams in the Northeast, with five more in process or scheduled.

Two dams on American Rivers’ 2016 list tell the story of how the Service and partners are helping communities adapt to changing conditions and realize a new vision of healthy, safe and connected river systems for people and wildlife.

Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, to offer a place for employees at the nearby CCC camp to swim and fish. The 7.5-foot-high and 276-foot-long stone masonry dam blocked the free passage of wild brook trout and other fish. It had fallen into disrepair, and the area above the barrier was filled with sediment.

The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal project, and multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Because the dam was historically notable, remnants were left both underwater and along the shore to allow access by those interested in the past.


The Service’s Fish Passage Program funded the removal of Long Run Dam, near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Multiple partners worked together to improve water quality and let trout reach important upstream habitat. Credit: USFWS

According to Mark Roberts, coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Pennsylvania, “This project shows that when like-minded people get together, they can produce results that benefit both wildlife and local communities.”

The Norton Paper Mill Dam, on the Jeremy River in Colchester, Connecticut, was built in the early 1800s. Until the 1960s, the mill was the focal point of the Westchester section of the town, supplying jobs for villagers and nearby farmers alike. Nearly 20-feet high, it blocked the upstream movement of migratory fish, including Atlantic salmon, river herring, American eel, and Eastern brook trout.

In 2013, Nan Norton Wasniewski, a descendant of the original owner, chose to work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the town to dismantle the mill and dam. The Service funded the effort through Hurricane Sandy recovery dollars. The removal of the dam in early November 2016 opened 17 miles of upstream habitat for migratory fish.

Wasniewski sold the property to the town for $1 to build a public park in her family’s name. Once a place of industry, the site is now a gateway to recreational activities, including paddling and fishing. Wherever possible and safe, artifacts from the mill will become features of the park.


Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut. Credit: USFWS

According to Sally Harold, Director of River Restoration and Fish Passage for TNC in Connecticut, the Jeremy River is part of the high-quality Salmon River watershed, which is more than 60 percent forested.

“I live in Fairfield, Connecticut — about an hour outside New York City along the coast — and you can’t go anywhere on a river in that area without seeing houses,” said Harold. “On the Jeremy, you could canoe for an hour without seeing a single house.”

While damming a stream used to show progress, now letting water flow freely means growth. To have safe, healthy communities for both wildlife and people, we need thriving river systems. The Service and its partners are working toward that goal, one dam at a time.

(Lauri Munroe-Hultman is a writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Massachusetts.)

An after photo at the former Finesville dam site. Credit: Eric Schrading/USFWS

The people—and the fish—say thanks!

Who doesn’t like a pat on the back for a job well done? Today, we’re sharing our excitement to be part of a partnership that’s received a prestigious environmental award for work on the Musconetcong River in northwest New Jersey. The award comes from Coastal America, which recognizes outstanding collaborative projects and excellence in leadership for protecting, preserving and restoring the nation’s coastal resources. Four partnerships were picked this year from across the U.S. Read today’s news release.

The Musconetcong River Restoration Partnership has restored 3.4 miles connecting the Musconetcong to the Delaware River. In 2011, the partnership completed removal of Finesville and Riegelsville dams, the first two obstructions upstream of where the river meets the Delaware River. Many of the members of the partnership also worked together to remove the Gruendyke and Seber dams further upstream.

The dam removals along the 42-mile Musconetcong, also called the Musky, have restored natural stream flows, opened the way for migratory fish including American eels, alewife and blueback herring, and improved habitat for trout, bass and other local fish populations. Additionally, the projects alleviated some flooding by restoring the natural flood protection features of the riverside wetlands.