FORCE — In Elk County, the Bennett Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek is coming to life.
The Bennett Branch Working Group, or BBWG, has been working together since 2012 and have achieved some notable milestones to bringing recreational opportunities to the area. The group consists of private citizens, townships, local, county and state elected officials and numerous county and state organizations (among them the Elk County Conservation District, Elk County Planning Department, Elk County Commissioners, Department of Environmental Protection, PA Fish & Boat Commission, PA Game Commission, and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy).
“After a $40 million investment in remediation efforts on the Bennett Branch, which includes an Acid Mine Drainage Treatment facility, we started meeting to discuss the possibilities for enhanced recreation in the Bennett Branch Watershed,” said Fritz Lecker, a spokeswoman from State Rep. Matt Gabler’s office, who added its mission is to “ensure that local residents and visitors will benefit from … the Bennett Branch for fishing, boating and other recreation in a way that respects private property rights and supports local, community and county goals.”
The creek runs from the headwaters east of DuBois to its confluence with the Driftwood Branch to form Sinnemahoning Creek.
Steve Putt of the Elk County Conservation District, who is also a member of BBWG, said that is happening in many ways with the goal of getting people on the river to canoe, kayak, fish, and explore.
Currently, an access point and kiosk has been placed in Force, just south of its baseball field, as well as at the Dr. Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area in Benezette, just below the Medix Hotel. These sites, put in place by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, are the project’s “showcase” sites.
The group also tried to pursue a Rail Trail along the river but hit many snags, which put it on the back burner for now.
According to Putt, the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources is slated to put two river sites along the river in the area of Elk State Forest or Moshannon State Forest. In the future the WPC is also looking to put river maps and history kiosks along the river.
Another site may be added near the AMD treatment facility. And Putt noted that Cameron County has been developing the river on its end, making stream access available at least as far as Driftwood.
“Prior to recent years, the watershed was dead. The AMD treatment facility has brought it back to life, and we hope to help with that,” said Putt who said the group is hopeful the access points will help to capture some of the 250,000 visitors who pass through the area each year to see the elk and visit other recreation points.
“It’s a work in progress that will continue to evolve and change,” Putt added.