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Raccoon Creek Partnership continues to serve as model for remediation efforts

Rebecca Cochran October 1, 2009

Raccoon Creek Partnership (RCP) has been an active environmental voice in southeastern Ohio for nearly 30 years. The member-based nonprofit organization works to restore the well-being of Raccoon Creek and the communities of the six counties within its 683-square mile watershed (Athens, Hocking, Vinton, Jackson, Meigs and Gallia). When completing successful restoration projects, the group aims "to work toward conservation, stewardship, and restoration of the watershed for a healthier stream and community."

A History of Involvement
What started in the 1980s as a grassroots effort of citizens in Gallia County quickly became a cooperative partnership of local organizations, government agencies and involved citizens. Originally named the Raccoon Creek Improvement Committee (RCIC), the group's first projects included local trash pickups and logjam removals. The remediation efforts, however, did not stop there.  RCIC acquired the necessary grants to fund a project that would extend beyond Gallia County to improve the health of Raccoon Creek in its entirety.

In the '90s, the RCIC launched the Raccoon Creek Watershed Project. The project included community outreach, acid mine drainage (AMD) abatement, and environmental education for the six counties in the Raccoon Creek watershed.

RCIC became Raccoon Creek Partnership (RCP) in 2007 after they worked to coordinate their efforts with local citizens of the watershed and associated agencies. The partnership developed bylaws and became incorporated with the State of Ohio, establishing their presence as an official, tax-exempt, nonprofit partnership in southeastern Ohio.

The RCP Today
Currently, RCP has an AMD remediation project underway at the Pierce Run site, a sub-watershed in the Middle Basin of the Raccoon Creek Watershed, located in Vinton County. The project includes a two-fold restorative effort: AMD treatment at Oreton Seep and a wetland enhancement of Pierce Run.

The Oreton Seep is located in a tributary of Pierce Run and was caused by the abandonment of an underground coal mine in the 1920s, leading to large amounts of acid draining into Pierce Run. Efforts to abate the drainage will include the enhancement of the 20-acre wetland to prevent minerals from the abandoned mine from draining into Pierce Run and in turn, Raccoon Creek.

The project, scheduled to reach completion by the end of the year has not been the only successful project of the Raccoon Creek Partnership. Other restoration projects by RCP include sites at Carbondale II Doser (Athens County), Hope Clay (Vinton County), and East Branch (Hocking County).

The Carbondale II Doser project, completed in 2004, led to the prevention of nearly 758 lbs. per day of acid from entering the Hewett Fork, a subwatershed of Raccoon Creek Watershed. In 2005, the Hope Clay project contributed to the prevention of over 21 lbs. per day of acid from entering Raccoon Creek.

The first phase of the AMD project at East Branch was completed in 2007, including reclamation efforts at seven sites along East Branch tributaries. The second phase of the project at East Branch is scheduled to begin once the necessary funds to continue restoring the health of the tributaries are secured.

Through AMD projects, RCP is able to reverse the damage done by years of acid mine drainage in the region. Sulfuric acid from acid mine drainage considerably decreases the health of the stream for domestic water use, as well as the abundance of aquatic life found in the waterways. AMD abatement projects work to restore the health of the stream through preventing further formation of sulfuric acid. By closely monitoring the conditions of the stream through fish and water sampling, RCP is improving the viability of the local landscape for the health of citizens and environment alike.

The Importance of Partnerships
The remediation projects of RCP continue to be successful in part because of the cooperative efforts of local and state agencies who contribute valuable services to the projects, including funding, engineering design, project construction and oversight, data collection and analysis, and educational assistance.

Agencies aiding RCP in their remediation projects include the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Division of Surface Water, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Mineral Resources Management, the Midwest Biodiversity Institute, the Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, and the Soil & Water Conservation Districts in the Raccoon Creek watershed counties.

In addition to the local and state agencies partnering with RCP, there are several other watershed remediation groups that work with RCP to maximize the restoration of southeastern Ohio's streams and communities. Monday Creek Restoration Project and the Sunday Creek Watershed Group are two groups who have adopted models for watershed restoration management similar to that of the Raccoon Creek Partnership. RCP works with these organizations to share equipment and resources and to coordinate sampling efforts for remediation projects. Because of their limited funding, the organizations rely heavily on each other and on volunteers to successfully achieve their missions.

Similarly, the volunteers of the Raccoon Creek Water Trail Association work with RCP to promote conscientious use of the land in the Raccoon Creek watershed for fishing and wildlife observation. Sites such as those at Lake Hope, Jackson City Reservoir and Lake Alma are dedicated to promoting responsible recreation in the Raccoon Creek watershed communities.

Educating the Community
Watershed education and outreach programs are central to the mission of RCP. They offer many opportunities for student and community involvement as well as increased awareness of the group's efforts. While there has been steady involvement by college students, RCP hopes to further extend opportunities for involvement to the Raccoon Creek communities.

One such opportunity for residents is the Waterloo Aquatic Education Center located near Hewlett Fork in Athens County. The Raccoon Creek Partnership is in the process of restoring the center, (formerly the Waterloo Wildlife Area Headquarters), into a resource for aquatic education accessible by all.

The Waterloo Wildlife Area encompasses an area of approximately 3000 acres with 35 hiking trails and is the site of many research projects including animal surveys and habitat management. In addition to the research projects conducted here, the education center is open to local school groups and environmental groups through RCP programs for field trips and environmental science workshops.

Plans for the education center include strengthening the relationship between citizens of the watershed and their environment through aquatic science education programs. To that end, RCP plans to equip the education center with resources for wildlife observation including microscopes, a stream table, a model of the watershed, and a research library with a computer station.

Student Partners
Over the past 10 years, graduate students from Ohio University have advanced RCP's success and goals for education and community involvement. One such project is that of Ohio University student Qian Zhang. Zhang is a graduate student in the department of geological sciences at Ohio University. She serves as an intern for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources while working with RCP to conduct water sampling, macro invertebrate sampling and GIS mapping. In addition to these duties, Zhang helps with map-making, report-writing and reviewing management plans.

"It's a very creative thing to do [involving students in RCP projects]. We can participate in activities and lend ideas to help with normal routines," said Zhang. In addition to her regular activities with RCP, Zhang also helped with RCP's Waterloo 2009 summer camps, commenting that she feels it is important to "…educate kids about science."

The relationship between RCP and Ohio University students is mutually beneficial, as students like Qian Zhang provide RCP with their knowledge and expertise and in turn, RCP provides students with a "real world" lab in their own backyard where they can complete their research. This relationship is pivotal to the success of both the Raccoon Creek Partnership and students at Ohio University.

What's Next for RCP?
In addition to the education center, RCP continues to coordinate community events including canoe floats, trash pick-ups, stream sweeps, watershed projects and tours, public meetings, and classroom presentations to K-12 schools in the area. The RCP annual dinner, scheduled for Nov. 8, 2009 from 3:00-6:00 p.m. is the third annual RCP dinner. The evening will include a raffle, silent auction, watershed updates and RCP board elections.

The community-based vision and restorative efforts of the original RCIC continue to guide the successful Raccoon Creek Partnership today. Its success can be measured in the many miles of clean rivers and streams, as well as the many local residents that have come to value and appreciate their watershed. The Raccoon Creek Partnership's unique blend of restoration, science education, and recreation make it a successful model for other remediation-oriented organizations and nonprofit agencies in southeastern Ohio to engage citizens in cleaning up their local environment.

For more information, visit: www.raccooncreek.org