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Donations help rejuvenate Kiski River

| Friday, April 6, 2007

The Kiski River has come a long way in the past 25 years. It's going to come a little further in the next few weeks.

That's because an effort to stock it with trout -- like the river itself, once seemingly on its last legs -- has taken on new life.

Soliciting donations from various businesses and individuals, William Berry of Leechburg stocked about $40,000 worth of brook, brown, rainbow, palomino and tiger trout in the Kiski from Apollo to Leechburg between 2001-05. Health problems sidelined him last year, however.

The prospects for getting fish in the river this year weren't much better as recently as a month ago.

In early March, Berry had about $1,000 in leftover money in an account. His plan, barring an infusion of help and money, was to stock one load of fish and be done with it.

Once that word got out, though, help and donations picked up, to the point that he's at about $3,500 and counting.

"Things have been going like crazy," Berry said. "I'll tell you, I'm really happy with how things are going now. I've been getting calls and donations from people as far away as an hour south of Pittsburgh."

The plan now is to stock the Kiski with trout, perhaps as many as three times this spring, starting Monday night. The fish will range from 12-18 inches or better.

That's great news in the eyes of John Kocon, a volunteer with the Kiski and Roaring Run watershed associations. He's one of a couple of people who have stepped up to help Berry seek out donations.

The Kiski -- the largest tributary to the Allegheny River, drawing its water from nearly 1,900 square miles of watershed -- has always held tremendous potential, he said.

Yet, as recently as 1980, the river was dead. A survey of the aquatic life in the river carried out by the Department of Environmental Protection that year found one solitary frog and not a single fish living in it.

Work to clean the river began shortly thereafter, though, with good results.

When the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission surveyed the river again in 1990, it found 19 species of fish, said Rick Lorson, the commission biologist in charge of managing the river. A decade later, the situation was even better, as evidenced by the smallmouth population doubling.

Today, the river has everything from smallmouth bass and carp to catfish, walleyes and muskies, Kocon said. Even the trout stocked by Berry have held over from year to year, he said.

"It's hard to believe now that this river used to run orange. It's incredible how far it's come," Kocon said.

Indeed, Berry grew near the river and remembers how bad it used to be.

There was a time when he was embarrassed to be seen fishing the Kiski, worried that his neighbors would think he was crazy for casting a line into a water that had been dead as long as anyone could remember.

It's certainly alive now, though, and he's glad that he and others can fish it.

"I love to see people fishing and enjoying the river now," Berry said.

Stocking trout

Bill Barry, John Kocon and the other volunteers associated with putting trout in the Kiski River will be stocking their first load of fish at 5 p.m. Monday at the Six Pack Shop, located about a quarter-mile outside of Vandergrift.

Anyone wanting to come by and help stock the fish is welcome.

Berry will have "I Helped Stock the Kiski" buttons there for sale for $5. All proceeds go toward buying fish.

Buttons also are available at Schultz's Sportsmen's Stop in Apollo, Xtreme Performance and Accessories in Hyde Park, Hyde Park Tavern, Davis Bait and Tackle in Allegheny Township, Now Showing in Vandergrift and Goodman's Bait and Tackle in Gilpin Township.

Donations also can be mailed to Berry at 73 Tunnel Hill Road, Leechburg PA 15656. Make checks payable to the Kiskiminetas Watershed Association. All contributions are tax deductible.

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