Warren County has a long history of active sportsmen groups taking on big projects. Improvements to Morrison Run by the Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited is one of the latest. As with all projects of this magnitude, acquiring permits and funding was the first order of business once the project was defined. Actual on the ground work began in 2009.
Instream habitat improvement structures were installed in the stream on September 25, 2010 by 13 volunteers from the TU chapter, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, along with three children who helped with the structures and picked up trash in the area.. Using only hand tools, two log-faced stone deflectors and a modified mudsill were constructed.
A check of these on March 29, 2011, revealed that the structures have been working as planned, creating excellent trout habitat.
Mike Fadale (left), project leader for Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and chapter vice president Gary Kell inspect the lower dam on Morrison Run. The pools above the dam has filled with silt, and the dam is in poor condition. It is scheduled to be removed this summer.
A stream deflector constructed using hand tools on Morrison Run is doing its job of keeping flow in the channel.
"We've targeted nine different areas of the stream, with the help of the Forest Service and the WINs Coalition, that need some help," said Mike Fadale project leader for Cornplanter Chapter TU.
Four of the most visible and most vital areas impede fish movement. Three gravel structures at an apron near the lower end of the creek, just below the tunnel, will allow fish passage. Two dams, which also diminish the stream as trout habitat by warming the water, will be removed. A bridge near the Warren Archery Club will replace culverts.
A bridge at the lower dam will be replaced by a bridge which will be provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. That bridge, which is structurally sound, had been removed from a state game land road.
The first part to be completed was the removal of a stream crossing which had been created by ATVs. This crossing has created a ditch which channeled silty water into the stream.
Another stream crossing at a pipeline created a similar situation, and above that is another crossing used for OGM procedure. The State Route 2003 crossing needs attention, and a project is planned for the stream headwaters.
The Morrison Run Restoration Project is but one of several Allegheny Watershed Improvement Needs Coalition (WINs) projects.
Allegheny WINs, formed in April, 2007, is led by a steering committee which includes representatives from municipal, county, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations. Their stated mission is "to promote protection, restoration, and habitat improvement activities in watersheds that lie entirely or partially in the Allegheny National Forest to achieve Forest Service and community needs through collaboration and partnerships".
That does sound like the work of a diverse committee.
Partners with Cornplanter TU on the Morrison Run Restoration Project are Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Warren County Conservation District, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, U.S. Forest Service, and four private land owners.
Funding to this point has been $800 by the Cornplanter Chapter TU, $1,000 from First Energy, $1,000 from Pennsylvania General Energy for the decommissioning of a heavily eroded stream ford. CHIP put $1,200 in 2009 and $1,000 in 2010 to fish habitat improvement. The U.S. Forest Service provided $2,500 and Gas & Oil Management, Inc. $500 toward streambank stabilization. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has promised $25,000 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service $20,000 for dam removal and bridge replacement.
Land along Morrison Run is under various ownerships, mostly private. This makes a project encompassing the entire stream very challenging. It requires considerable cooperation and generosity by landowners. Up to this point at least, the outlook is very promising thanks in large part to the Cornplanter Chapter TU, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy which aids in permits, applying for funds, and consulting with landowners..
Recalling the past helps to understand the potential of this project. Even today, in spite of a decades-long assault by various factors, some wild brook trout still survive in Morrison Run, primarily in small pockets where habitat is suitable. As recently as the 1950s, the stream provided very good fishing for brook trout. Water behind both dams was deep and clear. There, too, brook trout resided.
But then sedimentation turned the dams into mud flats. As water passed through these shallow, mud bottom pools the temperature rose above tolerance levels of brook trout. Even when the dam pools were clean they blocked upstream fish passage.
Trout migrating from the Allegheny River has gained importance. Big trout have been observed just below the lower obstacle. Once the obstacles are removed, and the water quality improves, Morrison Run should again provide excellent brook trout habitat, as well as a spawning area for trout migrating from the Allegheny River.