Little Juniata group gets access grants

Tyrone, Pa. – The Little Juniata River just can’t get out of the
limelight.

The big limestone-influenced trout stream – subject of a
landmark public-access fight and a dispute over allowing bait
fishing the last few years – was recently named one of the top
trout streams in the eastern United States by Outdoor Life.

Now the popular and scenic river in Blair and Huntingdon
counties, which was horribly polluted by municipal sewage,
papermill waste and industrial chemicals over most of the last
century, is being used as a test case for a statewide program to
buy public access to valuable fishing waters.

The Little Juniata River Association in December received
$200,000 in grants to be used to acquire angling and boating access
on the Little Juniata and Frankstown branches of the Juniata
River.

A $100,000 grant came from the state Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources. An additional $50,000 came as a matching
grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection,
along with $50,000 from fines the state Fish & Boat Commission
has collected from polluters.

The headwaters of the Little Juniata are near Altoona and the
river flows southeast until it joins the Frankstown Branch near
Petersburg. The Frankstown Branch begins in the Claysburg area of
Blair County and flows northeast to join the Little Juniata.

Sections of the Frankstown Branch are stocked with trout and
many of its feeder streams are stocked trout fisheries or Class A
Wild Trout Waters. Its major trout tributaries are Piney, Clover
and Halter creeks and Beaverdam, Poplar and South Poplar runs.

Since the Little Juniata River has been declared “navigable” by
the courts and open to boating and fishing, what is in question is
access to the water.

“Much of the river access is currently open, and we’d like to
keep it that way,” said Bill Anderson, president of the Little
Juniata River Association. “Our goal is to preserve public access
to the Little Juniata we enjoy now, so that generations to come can
share this same feeling.”

Jackie Kramer, statewide public access and conservation lands
coordinator for the Fish & Boat Commission views the financial
incentive program for landowners to preserve public access “as a
reward to landowners who have kept their streams open to fishing
and also a guarantee that they will stay open.”

The Little Juniata River Association and the Fish & Boat
Commission will seek to purchase fishing and boating access on
seven miles of streambank on the two rivers and any fishable
tributaries.

Major trout tributaries of the Little Juniata include Spruce
Creek, South Bald Eagle Creek, Tipton Run and Bells Gap Run. In
each case, there will be a one-time payment made to landowners for
the perpetual right of anglers and boaters to use streamside
property to get access to the stream.

“This will be a specific agreement between the Fish & Boat
Commission and the landowner,” Kramer said. “The commission will be
the ultimate holder of the easements.”

According to Kramer, New York state is the model for this
program. Pennsylvania is trying to develop a uniform agreement that
can be used anywhere in the state.

“Although it is uniform, it is somewhat flexible, in that a
landowner could, for example, post his property for no night
fishing,” Anderson said.

Kramer explained that all easements will include a 35-foot
stream buffer beginning at the edge of the stream at normal flow.
In essence, the angling and boating easement is also a conservation
easement, as required by DCNR’s involvement. Once the agreement has
been made, the landowner cannot develop, degrade or change the use
of that streamside property.

With 35 miles of river (70 miles of stream bank) just on the
Little Juniata and about the same number of tributary miles, how
does one decide where to begin?

“We are trying to look at it as an angler or boater would,”
Anderson said. “Of course, the roadside property is more important
for access than the opposite bank and so are current angler-parking
areas. Certain ‘at-risk’ areas will be looked at closely.”

The Little Juniata River Association is putting an emphasis on
current special regulations water on the Little Juniata, Anderson
noted. The river’s catch-and-release, all-tackle water begins at
the railroad bridge below Ironville and extends 13.5 miles
downstream to the mouth.

“The beauty of working with the Little Juniata River Association
is that the group has a local sense of fishing demand. They are the
real feet on the ground,” Kramer said. “We’ll give preference to
the best fishing habitat, and we will try to build upon parcels to
get long areas of connected stream frontage. We will also be
looking for areas that have parking within a reasonable
distance.”

All of the grant money will go toward acquiring easements,
Anderson promised. “There are no administrative costs,” he said.
“We consider this to be open-ended. If we have more opportunities
than money, we will solicit more [funds]. We’re nonprofit and can
go to private sources as well.”

While it is difficult to put a value on fishing rights,
Anderson, pointed out that the association must do that to purchase
easements. DCNR regulations require that an appraisal be done on
any land for which state money is used.

“The Fish & Boat Commission is a full partner in this,”
Anderson said. “The agency provided a fourth of the grant money
and, with our input, it will be producing a brochure to explain the
fishing easements to landowners. Commission officials have also
offered to provide signage marking every place where we acquire an
easement. If this works on the Little J, this program will be
utilized throughout the state.”

According to Anderson, the Little Juniata River Association has
already contacted six riparian landowners, five on the river and
one on Spruce Creek. He expects that the first purchase will occur
this spring.

“As soon as things thaw out, I will coordinate a direct mailing
of the brochure to riparian landowners and invite them to meetings
that will be scheduled locally,” Kramer said. “We need willing
sellers, but in my past experience, some landowners elect to donate
the conservation easement.”

“Things will have to happen quickly, beginning this spring,”
Anderson said. “We have two years to get the job done.”

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