In 1909, Carnegie Museum mussel biologist Arnold E. Ortmann called the Clarion River “one of the worst streams in the state” due to pollution from mine drainage and unregulated industries such as tanneries and chemical plants that, at the time, were dumping untreated waste directly into the river.
Ortmann noted that the river flowed “blackish-brown” all the way to the Allegheny River and it appeared to be devoid of aquatic life. By 1996, however, portions of the Clarion River were included in the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The comeback of the Clarion is a testament to the resiliency of nature and the resolve of citizens to restore a regional treasure.
The Clarion River rises in McKean County, Pennsylvania, and flows nearly 100 miles through McKean, Elk, Forest, Jefferson and Clarion counties to its confluence with the Allegheny River near Parker. Much of the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest is formed by the Clarion River. Most of the river is free-flowing, except for a portion in Clarion County that is impounded by Piney Dam. Throughout much of its length, the Clarion River flows through forested banks with gravel roads, camps, and small villages providing the few hints of civilization.
The comeback of the Clarion is a testament to the resiliency of nature and the resolve of citizens to restore a regional treasure.
Recreational and Economic Value
The Clarion River is an important regional recreational resource that offers ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and wildlife-watching. The fishing in the Clarion River and its tributaries is outstanding and a float trip downriver for smallmouth bass can be exhilarating. Bald eagles now nest along the Clarion and sightings of ospreys are on the rise. Great blue herons and kingfishers are also commonly seen taking fish from the river.
Despite its remarkable recovery from decades of pollution, the water quality of the Clarion River is not completely restored. Below Piney Dam, mine drainage enters the river from impaired tributaries such as Piney, Deer, and Licking creeks, and ultimately flows into the Allegheny River. Treating these discharges will be a key to improving water quality in the region.