ASHLEY — Before improvements could be added to a section of Solomon Creek that flows through the Ashley Borough Park, a few things had to be removed.
Nine check dams — rows of stones piled across the creek — and one concrete dam were taken out of the water, along with the years of sediment that had accumulated behind the structures.
Then, after the creek was returned to its natural, free-flowing state, four cross veins — large boulders that deflect the current away from the edge — were added, the bank was graded and seeded and the access road was improved.
The $136,000 project was spearheaded by the Eastern Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, in conjunction with the Stanley Cooper Sr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Luzerne Conservation District, Ashley Area Trout Stocking Association and River Logistics. Construction began on June 25 and was completed on July 24, and the benefits should last for decades.
Robert Hughes, executive director for EPCAMR, said there were two facets to the project — dam removal and trout habitat restoration — and part of the work was funded by mitigation funds from the South Valley Parkway construction. Removing the dams was critical, Hughes said, because the pools they created allowed sediment to build up, raise the water temperature and lower dissolved oxygen levels — all of which are detrimental to trout.
“The dams were creating backwater eddies that were eroding the banks, and that’s where some of the sediment was coming from,” Hughes said. “Once they were gone, we had a straight flow with natural bedrock, and in between we installed four cross veins to put the water in the middle, take the pressure off the bank and create more coldwater for trout.”
The cross veins are constructed in an arch pattern with large boulders on each bank connected by a row of boulders that form a slight dam, creating a pool but allowing water — and trout — to pass through.
John McGovern, treasurer of the Ashley Area Trout Stocking Asssociation, said now that the work is complete, the annual kid’s fishing derby will return next April. The derby was cancelled last year due to dangerous conditions from high water along the creek.
While McGovern was happy with the improved access along the creek, he said the association will have to come up with a plan to contain the trout that are stocked for the derby now that the dams are gone.
“It’s something we’ll have to address,” he said. “But the derby will be back and the work has made for safer conditions for the kids to fish. It was treacherous in spots before, but now they can walk right to the creek anywhere.”
Mike Hewitt, program manager for EPCAMR, said improving trout habitat in the stretch of Solomon Creek in Ashley is crucial.
“This is the last coldwater stronghold in the creek. It’s a transition area from coldwater to warmwater between here and Liberty Estates,” Hewitt said.
While the work took one month to complete, Hughes said there were several obstacles along the way. Issues from old mining activity caused a few delays, including locating an existing shaft so it could be avoided during excavation and working around a pipe that crossed the creek that was used to supply water to the Huber Breaker decades ago.
A gravel island also had to be removed to improve stream flow.
“The island formed from debris washing out of the culvert that carries the stream under Interstate 81,” Hughes said. The stream was braided on each side of the island, so, once we removed it, a cross vein was put in to stabilize the area.”
The last step of the project consisted of removing dead trees and Japanese knotweed that covered the bank, grading the area to establish a bench to contain flood water and improve the access road. An informational kiosk detailing the project will be added later.
Before the project began, EPCAMR and Trout Unlimited electro-shocked the creek to determine species of fish and the presence of trout, and a baseline was established for flow, water chemistry and aquatic life.
“We’re going to continue to monitor this area for flow, chemistry and see how the aquatic life and fish respond,” Hughes said.