We can deny that human activities have damaged the environment or we can fix and stop making the mistakes that jeopardize the very water we need to survive.

Some local groups and citizens have chosen to fix mistakes on Lake Erie streams, as is the case in this week’s watershed focus on Four Mile Creek.

The creek begins its eight-mile journey to Lake Erie in Greene Township and flows through the municipalities of Harborcreek, Wesleyville and Lawrence Park. Its watershed is 11.93 square miles and includes densely developed areas from Route 5 to East 38th Street, as well as Penn State Behrend. Because of all those impervious surfaces, stormwater runoff is a major problem causing streambank erosion and carrying sediment, litter and other pollutants into the stream.

In 2004, the Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association created a strategic action plan to fix watershed problems. The Four Mile Creek subcommittee, including Don Benczkowski, Ron Dombrowiak, Ed Masteller and Dave Skellie, compiled a list of restoration, conservation and protection projects. Many of them have been achieved with help from community groups and citizens, and Penn State Behrend instructors and students.

Volunteers now document and remove trash from Four Mile Creek each year for the Pennsylvania Lake Erie International Coastal Cleanup. Skellie, a coastal land use and economic specialist for Pennsylvania Sea Grant, and Ann Quinn, a Penn State Behrend lecturer in the School of Science and director of Greener Behrend, lead this effort. Skellie and Quinn have also been instrumental in securing funding and working on other projects.

“A stormwater control project completed in 2007 has substantially reduced erosion and sedimentation from Trout Run, a tributary of Four Mile Creek, which runs through the Behrend campus,” said Skellie.

Skellie has been involved in other improvements that have returned the stream to a more natural flow, allowing fish to swim from the mouth to upper reaches of the stream. Gone are two impediments in the stream, including one dam in Wesleyville, and a concrete-capped waterfall on Behrend’s campus. Added were a fish ladder and a fish bypass, both on Lawrence Park Golf Club property.

He also worked on a plan and grant for site improvements at Teker Park, a one-half acre park at Route 5 and Iroquois Avenue. This National Scenic Byway Program project will include landscaping, sidewalks, lighting and other amenities. Finally, a 2.77-acre property donation to the Lake Erie Region Conservancy will soon make 718 feet along Four Mile Creek in Wesleyville Borough available for public fishing access.

Quinn, meanwhile, spearheads sustainability efforts with faculty members, staff and students on many Behrend campus initiatives, including a green roof, two rain gardens and a TreeVitalize project that added more than 200 campus trees. “Because these projects help to manage stormwater, they help protect the Four Mile Creek subwatershed and Lake Erie,” said Quinn. She is also leading an ecological overhaul and realignment of the Wintergreen Gorge trail, a popular destination for hikers, birders, fossil-hunters and others who simply use the stream to cool off on a hot day.

“These projects improve water quality, enable fish migration and benefit the local tourism industry. But more importantly, they demonstrate that people care enough to fix the environment and improve the quality of life, ” said Skellie.

You don’t need to wait a single moment before starting to improve the PA Lake Erie Watershed. For information about the Four Mile Creek subwatershed, e-mail Skellie at dus18@psu.edu or Quinn at abq1@psu.edu.

For information about other Lake Erie subwatersheds, e-mail Pat Lupo, plupo@neighborhoodarthouse.org or Sarah Galloway, sgalloway@erie.pa.us.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011