COOKSBURG – The Clarion River, recognized in January as the 2019 Pennsylvania River of the Year by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was not always the clean, attractive waterway that it is today. Rather, the 110-mile river, which stretches from Johnsonburg to Parker where it joins with the Allegheny River, was once a degraded stretch of water bespoiled by mine run-off, waste from the wood-chemical and tanning industries, and outmoded and exploitive logging practices.

In light of this, it seemed only fitting that the Clarion Conservation District (CCD) chose to celebrate the river by holding a clean-up event last Saturday, Sept. 7, in Cook Forest.

“It used to be one of the most polluted rivers and it’s now designated a National Wild and Scenic River. So it’s really improved a lot. Which I think is another reason why it was voted River of the Year, because of how far it’s come,” said Tricia Mazik, CCD resource technician.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon volunteers floated in canoes and kayaks searching for refuse on a 15-mile stretch of river extending from just below Clear Creek State Park through Cook Forest to the Leeper-area. Describing the type of garbage that volunteers might pull out of the water or pick up off the banks Mazik said, “Any and everything. Some tires, water bottles, anything like that, that could be washed into the waterway.”

“Mostly water bottles, cans, some beer cans. Diapers, which is a kind of a strange thing to see, you would think people would take better care of that. A lot of shoes, because people wear footwear that will float away, flip flops and slides and things like that. So there’s always a lot of shoes. Not many tires, but occasionally you’ll see tires. You don’t see many people dumping trash along the river, it’s more or less from use. Keys, cell phones, things like that we find quite a bit,” added Stacie Kaye, who along with her husband Matt owns Pale Whale Canoe Rental, which provided the canoes, kayaks, dumpsters and transportation for volunteers to and from launches for the event.

Vital to the clean-up were the volunteers who answered the CCD’s call for assistance.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without volunteers. We have a few members of the staff with the conservation district. And then there’s a couple different organizations that are also involved — the Back Country Hunters and Anglers (BCHA) and the Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited,” Mazik said. “They’re going to bring some folks in as well. With doing a 15-mile stretch we definitely need volunteers.”

Andrew Turner, a professor at Clarion University and faculty advisor of the institution’s BCHA chapter, was on hand with not only his twin 11-year-old sons, Joshua and Caleb, but also a cadre of student volunteers. Turner, a member of the CCD board of directors, explained why he and the BCHA students came out, saying, “The Clarion River is this amazing resource that we have here. It’s really unique in the amount of publicly owned land along the river corridor. It’s unique in the great water quality, the great fishing, the great recreational opportunities. And so we have this wonderful resource in our backyard and we all need to pitch in and take care of it.”

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Also volunteering were David and Melissa Rohm of Pittsburgh, makers of the 2017 documentary “Cathedral: The Fight to Save the Ancient Hemlocks of Cook Forest,” which detailed efforts to prevent the invasive Hemlock Woolley Adelgid beetle from destroying the forest’s trees.

“We love Cook Forest. We’ve been coming here for years and we love doing river clean-ups. We actually ran a nonprofit in Pittsburgh for a few years called Paddle Without Pollution. And although we don’t run that anymore, we still try to clean up waterways whenever we can and support Cook Forest whenever we can,” Melissa Rohm said.

“People come in and litter and we try to clean up through the year,” Kaye said. “But supporting this event that we can do a major cleanup with the community is a great thing. We provide trash bags to all our guests if they are willing to take them. But this is the day that we get to really get behind.

“I think that this is an annual event and we’re hoping that it grows each year. It’s important to come out as a community and support our ecosystem so it’s not here just for us today, but for our children and grandchildren tomorrow”

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