PF&BC buys spring that feeds Little Juniata River

Altoona, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission
recently agreed to purchase approximately 50 acres of wetlands in
the upper Little Juniata River Watershed in Blair County north of
here.

The move is seen as an important conservation and collaboration
precedent for the agency affecting one of the state’s best trout
streams.

Although the final vote at the commissioners July 13 quarterly
meeting occurred without fanfare, it was actually the culmination
of a multi-year effort by the Little Juniata River Association,
Trout Unlimited, the Blair County Conservation District and other
groups to protect this property.

“It was a little over four years ago when I discovered that the
owner was willing to sell,” said Bill Anderson, president of the
Little Juniata River Association.

“Realizing the importance of this property, I’ve been looking
for a suitable buyer to preserve this land ever since. Protecting
this property has been a top association goal for four years.”

The property, located in Antis Township not far from Route 99,
is a high-quality wetlands. In addition, it also includes about a
half-mile of Class A wild trout stream Sandy Run, a large
limestone-influenced spring, several smaller springs, the old
concrete raceways from a dilapidated private trout hatchery, a pond
and the surrounding riparian land.

“There is one very large spring and a half-dozen lesser
springs,” Anderson said. He estimates that the large spring flows
at 6,800 gallons per minute.

Fish & Boat Commissioner Len Lichvar, of Somerset County,
was excited about the purchase and promoted it within his agency.
“This is an important piece of property,” he said.

“When this acquisition comes to fruition, it will be considered
a prime example of our agency putting the resource first. Normally,
when the commission buys property, it is for fishing or boating
access.

“This [purchase] sets a precedent because it is directly
connected toward conservation of the resource,” Lichvar added. “We
are preserving an important cold water source for the Little
Juniata River.”

Trout prefer water temperatures in the 50s and 60s. A river,
such as the Little Juniata, depends on springs to keep its summer
water temperatures at a suitable level for wild trout.

Sandy Run and the springs that feed it are very important to the
health of the upper Little Juniata, according to commission
biologists. Its positive effect can clearly be measured with a
thermometer.

On July 27, in the midst of a heat wave, Anderson and a few
other Little Juniata River Association members sampled the
temperatures of the upper river and its tributaries.

“The river itself was running in the 70s, and every tributary –
Tipton Run, Bells Run, Spring Run – was either 68 or 69 degrees at
its mouth,” Anderson explained. “When we got to the mouth of Sandy
Run, the river measured 75.5 degrees just above Sandy Run, but
Sandy Run itself measured a healthy 62.3 degrees, and it doubled
the flow of the river.”

While it is not very often that development actually protects
the environment, in this case it rings true. Anderson initially
contacted several conservancies and none expressed interest in the
property. Although the Fish & Boat Commission was interested,
the agency did not have the necessary funds.

But then in stepped Trout Unlimited. “Our TU chapter received a
half-million dollars in mitigation money from the construction of
Logan Town Centre shopping plaza near Altoona,” explained Jerry
Green, president of the Blair County/John Kennedy Chapter of Trout
Unlimited.

“Stipulations that came attached to the money specified that a
certain percentage could be used for stream restoration or to
purchase conservation easements on an Altoona-area stream. When
Bill Anderson approached us about the Sandy Run property, I thought
that it would be a good fit.”

Even then, parting with the necessary $90,000 was a hard sell
within the TU chapter.

“A certain faction within our TU chapter wanted to use the money
for a purely TU project, but the directors finally agreed that this
was a wise use of our money,” Green said.

“I believe that Trout Unlimited should work with other groups to
help protect cold water. This was an opportunity to partner with
the Little Juniata River Association and the Fish & Boat
Commission to do just that.”

Although the selling price and the buyer are locked in, the
exact acreage will be determined by a new survey that will be made
soon on the site. Jim Eckenrode, watershed specialist with the
Blair County Conservation District, is handling this aspect and is
working with Trout Unlimited and the river association.

Approximately 50 acres will be subdivided for the commission
from the current 130-acre parcel. An additional 1.52 acres
containing the remnants of Elizabeth Furnace, an historic (1832-84)
iron blast furnace, will be deeded to the Southern Alleghenies
Conservancy, with an access easement to the PF&BC.

Several groups have expressed interest in restoring this
furnace.

Anderson has big plans for the property. “We already have had
consults with Penn State fisheries biologist Bob Carline and the
commission’s stream habitat staff – Karl Lutz and Dave Keller.

“I’d like to see the pond removed because it is warming the
spring water. Then we want to block off all of the raceways except
one, through which the spring water will then flow quickly.

“I think that the raceway would be a perfect place to submerge
Vibert boxes filled with wild brown trout eggs,” Anderson said.

“Wisconsin has what they call wild trout hatcheries. They strip
eggs and milt from wild trout and raise them in a hatchery. The fry
are later released in the watershed where the eggs came from. There
is no reason why we can’t do that in Pennsylvania.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’
website, a full one- third of all of the trout that they stock in
inland waters are wild fish.

Anderson also has plans for the stream, but as with every other
aspect of this deal, there are obstacles. “It seems that we might
be a victim of our own success,” he said.

“Having the wetland classified as high quality will now make it
more difficult for us to get permission to do stream work. We are
in discussion with the Fish & Boat Commission about hauling in
spawning-sized gravel and building in-stream devices that would
create trout-spawning habitat.”

As far as anyone remembers, Anderson notes, the commission has
never specifically attempted to make trout-spawning habitat. So
this would be breaking new ground for the agency.

But that’s OK with Commissioner Lichvar. “This entire project is
a step off of our normal track. I hope that it sets a precedent for
more similar actions.”

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