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Voinovich School leads Restoration Assessment at Robinson Fork and Ryerson Station State Park

Claire Schiopota
February 21, 2022

The Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service is leading a stream restoration assessment project in the Wheeling Creek Watershed in Pennsylvania. 


The Robinson Fork project, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, aims to reestablish a connection between Robinson Fork and a wider floodplain by restoring the area immediately surrounding the stream.


“The overall goal is to monitor the success of the restoration practices that are going on there, and it's important because they're kind of taking some newer approaches to stream restoration than what we typically see,” Ohio University’s Kelly Johnson, a project principal investigator, said. “We're trying to characterize the water storage, the nutrient patterns and the biological responses to these somewhat new restoration practices.”


​​In the first program contract, Ohio University principal investigators, or PIs, included Johnson, Natalie Kruse-Daniels and Kimberley Miller. Morgan Vis-Chiasson joined the project in the second contract. The PIs guide and support undergraduate and graduate students engaged in research on the project. Voinovich School staff members Jen Bowman, Nora Sullivan, Amy Mackey and Nicole Kirchner support project and fieldwork management.


The first contract for research began in July 2020 and was continued into the summer of 2021. The team selected study sites and collected baseline data during this time. This baseline data cataloged water storage, water flow, fish biology and nutrient levels in the soil and the water. 


Using the research measurements from the first contract, a second contract for the project and funding began in October 2021 and will be ongoing until August 2022. In the second contract, the team has been using its data to look closer at organic materials and legacy nutrients.


“We're more interested in how the organic matter is stored and how fast it breaks down in these new habitats, these sort-of stream wetland complexes,” Johnson said. “We started out with some pretty basic hypotheses to sort-of monitor and characterize and then, in the second year, we are focusing a little bit more on carbon and organic matter.”


Legacy nutrients, which have also been a focus of study during the assessment, were laid down in the watershed long ago and have significantly altered the wetland habitat.


“Many legacy–and current–land uses lead to nutrient-enriched erosion of sediments, particularly from field crops and animal grazing,” Kruse said. “These sediments accumulate on floodplains with stream channels downcutting and eroding through them. While this is the nature of many streams in Appalachia, including many streams, the impacts of legacy land uses are evident.”


Funding for the project has come from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, or WPC. WPC will conduct complementary research related to vegetation and amphibians alongside the stream restoration research project.


The project team plans to head back to the stream later in 2022 to take new measurements of  water storage, water flow, fish biology and nutrient levels. Biological work with organic materials is scheduled to be conducted this summer. 


“The project will help confirm the cost-effectiveness of restoration practices that improve the ability of small streams and wetlands to store water during dry periods, cycle nutrients and resist erosion during storms,” Johnson said. “These properties will help ensure that today's investments in stream restoration will provide long-lasting benefits to the region's watersheds, especially relative to future climate change scenarios.”