By Jessica Cyr
Traveling 112 miles, Raccoon Creek is one of Ohio's largest streams, running through six counties before emptying into the Ohio River. As tranquil as it may seem, the creek is contaminated with acid mine drainage and the delicate ecosystem is in jeopardy. Thanks to the efforts of many individuals and organizations, including Ohio University's Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development (ILGARD), restoration of Raccoon Creek is underway.
For many years, there was interest in the creek and several groups made efforts to educate others about the declining health of the watershed. Through a variety of funding methods, work began to restore Raccoon Creek. In 2000, the state created the Watershed Coordinator Program, which comprised grants put together to pay watershed coordinators' salaries. ILGARD agreed to apply for that grant and house the coordinator of the Raccoon Creek project, Chip Rice.
Though the focus of the project was initially the acid mine drainage, those working on the project realized that there were other problems in the watershed and a comprehensive approach was needed. ILGARD agreed to create a watershed management plan with a goal of identifying the other water quality issues and either taking action or learning more about the problems. After working on the plan for two years, it was approved last July.
"The plan not only covers those issues that are technical water quality issues," Rice said, "but also deals with human-related issues that are a concern to the community, such as stream debris. The mission is certainly based on restoring a healthy aquatic system and we want people who live there and use it to be aware and care for the watershed," Rice said.
By getting the community involved, Rachael Hoy, ILGARD senior project manager, hopes that future contamination can be prevented.
"Through the whole process, we are trying to show the interconnectedness of all the issues," she said. "Whether someone is concerned about acid mine drainage or restoring a historical resource, if we can get them involved with the watershed, then we can open their eyes to a lot of problems. We want to create awareness about the watershed."
The watershed project, began as a way to treat acid mine damage, has turned into a joint effort by the University and organizations and strives not only to encompass other issues, but also the community as well.
"The Raccoon Creek project involves a number of agencies working together primarily on acid mine drainage problems, but really the group is trying to expand its scope and making an effort to do more public outreach," Hoy said. "The only way the project will be sustainable in the future is if that part is successful. We need public commitment to clean up Raccoon Creek."
Jessica Cyr is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.