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The Stonycreek

Major tributaries of the Stonycreek include Wells Creek, Lambert's Run, Oven Run, Shade Creek, Bens Creek, Paint Creek, and Quemahoning Creek. Due to the efforts of SCRIP and partners, these tributaries are recovering from years of abandoned mine drainage, becoming viable fisheries and places of recreation and beauty once again. In addition to SCRIP, three active watershed associations are working to continue the recovery of these tributaries: Paint Creek Watershed Association, Shade Creek Watershed Association, and Wells Creek Watershed Association.


Wells Creek:
Wells Creek enters the Stonycreek at the bottom of the Gorge. Its west branch begins in Geiger, flowing northeast about two miles to join the east branch, which originates in Pleasant Hill. The creek flows north through Listie, Adams, Friedens and Coleman, then to the Stonycreek at Mostoller. Wells Creek once carried a heavy pollution load, the result of coal mining nearly throughout its 17-square-mile drainage. In 1971, a sewage system started the stream’s recovery, which continued in 1999 with the formation of the Wells Creek Watershed Association. Three passive treatment systems were built in 2003-04 and the association has stocked trout in the creek every year since, resurrecting the once-dead stream and greatly reducing the pollution burden of the Stonycreek.
Lamberts Run: Lamberts Run is primarily fed by the mine pool under the Flight 93 Memorial site. It also receives flow from the abandoned Heinemyer Mine downstream as it flows southwest through mostly dense forest and joins the Stonycreek in the lower Gorge. Downstream of Lambertsville, it flows through a magnificent stand of hemlock trees and over a drop of nearly 40 feet known as Lambert’s Falls. The water is not highly acidic, but is heavily polluted with iron, some of which is removed by passive treatment. The stream supports little life, but additional treatment is planned and further improvement is expected.
Oven Run: Oven Run is a small stream that joins the Stonycreek from the east just downstream of Kantner. Pollution it once carried effectively killed all aquatic life in the Stonycreek from that point downstream. The Oven Run Project, a series of six separate passive treatment systems completed from 1995 through 2002 changed that, extending the Stonycreek’s fishery by seven miles, greatly improving the water supply of Hooversville and providing measurably cleaner water as far downstream as Johnstown.
Quemahoning Creek: Quemahoning Creek is the biggest tributary to the Quemahoning Reservoir, a once-private industrial water supply now owned and used by the public for both water and recreation. The creek drains 99 square miles, flowing through Jenners and Boswell and joining the river just upstream of Hollsopple. Once orange and lifeless because of acid mine drainage, water quality has been significantly improved by passive treatment systems at Jenners and Boswell. The creek now supports a year-round trout fishery through stocking by sportsmen’s clubs, and is used by kayakers and canoeists.
Shade Creek: Shade Creek is the main pollution source on the Stonycreek River, dumping its load of iron and acid into the river at the head of the Stonycreek Canyon. Ironically, one of the creek’s two main tributaries – Clear Shade Creek – has long enjoyed a reputation as pristine trout water. Its watershed has been protected through a combination of state forest and water authority ownership. But its counterpart - Dark Shade Creek – has not been so fortunate. It gathers mine acid from a number of sources, the worst of them being the Site 16 discharge behind the fire hall in Central City. The Shade Creek Watershed Association has had some success with small treatment systems, and continues to work toward reclamation of the Dark Shade watershed, which holds immense potential for recreational fishing and whitewater boating.
Paint Creek: Paint Creek drains 37 square miles as it flows westward through Windber and enters the Stonycreek at Carpenter Park, just upstream of the McNally Bridge. Its pollution load is second only to Shade Creek in the Stonycreek watershed. Added to the impact of Shade Creek five miles upstream, the mine drainage it carries has a noticeable effect on the Stonycreek, evident by the heavy staining of rocks downstream from its mouth. Few today are aware that its beauty once inspired a group of Pittsburgh artists headed by George Hetzel and gave rise to the naturalist movement of the late 1860s. Despite efforts by the Paint Creek Watershed Association, there has been little progress in the watershed.
Bens Creek: Bens Creek supports aquatic life all through its 42-square-mile drainage, but the number and diversity of species increases sharply below Thomas Mills, where drainage from the limestone-floored Hillman Mine enters. However, that boost comes at a price in the form of iron that coats the streambed and smothers organisms. SCRIP’s first treatment system – the Rock Tunnel Project – was built at Thomas Mills to keep much of that iron out of the stream. The Bens Creek headwaters have recently been affected by a different mine discharge farther upstream. The state Department of Environmental Protection has begun construction on a treatment system to address that problem. When Benscreek joins the Stonycreek just upstream of Ferndale, it’s increased pH helps neutralize the acidic effects of Shade and Paint creeks and greatly improves the river’s chemistry.

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