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The Rebirth of Paint Creek

By Jim Reed

man-made Motorists traveling the West Virginia Turnpike through Raleigh, Fayette, and Kanawha counties have noticed something new besides tollbooths and speed limit signs.   Large green signs proclaiming: “Entering the Paint Creek Watershed - Please Keep It Clean” were placed here as a result of an initiative to improve the Paint Creek watershed.  

Travelers familiar with past conditions on Paint Creek may want to stop and reacquaint themselves with this stream. Stream surveys conducted by fisheries biologists have revealed improved water quality and diverse fish populations. What has happened in recent years to transform Paint Creek from an acid-impacted, littered stream to a clean, bubbling where anglers are a common sight?

In the winter of 1995, several people met in Fayette County to organize a Paint Creek watershed association.   Following that initial meeting, the Upper Paint Creek Watershed Association and the Lower Paint Creek Watershed Association (LPCWA) were formed to build local support for watershed improvements.   From these humble beginnings, a rebirth of Paint Creek has taken place that is a shining example of what local citizens can accomplish by working together.

The motto of the Lower Paint Creek Watershed Association states: “Where ordinary people are doing extraordinary things!”   This grass roots effort of citizen volunteers was formed to improve the water quality of the Paint Creek Watershed to benefit all citizens.   Their mission is to restore Paint Creek's beauty and water quality.   One of their goals is to improve environmental conditions within the watershed to support angling opportunities for trout and other gamefish .

This army of volunteers has formed partnerships with other private organizations, federal and state agencies, and other watershed groups who are working on similar issues throughout West Virginia.  

Examples of the group's major accomplishments are numerous but some of the more significant ones are listed below.  

The group has:

  • collected over 11,000 bags of trash
  • collected over 865 tons of solid waste (appliances, etc.),   125 tons of which   were eligible for recycling
  • removed 4,000 automobile tires
  • constructed several K-dams on tributary streams to improve fish habitat
  • monitored the water quality of Paint Creek and its tributaries through the Save Our Streams Program
  • constructed signs to identify the location of all tributaries
  • hosted a “Stream Doctor's Workshop” put on   by   the   Izaak   Walton League of America
  • secured over $618,000 in grants and in-kind services in less than four years to improve the water quality of Paint Creek
  • constructed a new boat ramp on the Kanawha River at Hansford
  • constructed a fishing pier for physically disabled anglers and three picnic shelters at Ash Branch
  • stocked over 15,000 brown trout fingerlings in Paint Creek
  • completed a limestone sand project in partnership with the Division of Environmental Protection on Ten-Mile Fork near Burnwell
  • improved stream habitat using natural stream channel design approach
  • assisted numerous other watershed groups in developing organizational skills

It is not difficult to understand why the Paint Creek Watershed was selected as the aquatic debrisWest Virginia Watershed Organization of the year in 1999!

John Rader , former Director of the Division of Natural Resources, recognized the major improvements the citizens of the Paint Creek Watershed were making along Paint Creek.   He assembled a Paint Creek Restoration Team to assist the outstanding work that has been accomplished by both the Upper and Lower Paint Creek Watershed organizations.   This team is composed of representatives of the Upper and Lower Paint Creek Watershed associations, the Canaan Valley Institute, the Division of Environmental Protection, the Turnpike Commission, and the Division of Natural Resources.   After developing a vision for the entire Paint Creek Watershed, the group is actively supporting implementation of additional watershed improvement projects.

  Trout are being caught year-round from Pax downstream to Skitter Creek and in a section from Burnwell to the vicinity of Ash Branch.   Additional limestone treatment is planned on several tributaries affected by acid mine drainage and could restore several miles of stream.

Paint Creek is easily accessible from the West Virginia Turnpike.   This accessibility combined with watershed improvements offers the potential for greater fishing opportunities for southern West Virginia anglers.

So when you see the new green signs proclaiming -- “Entering the Paint Creek Watershed - Please Keep It Clean”-- remember, you are witnessing the “Rebirth of Paint Creek!”

Jim Reed is the District Fisheries Biologist in Beckley.