Diminishing water quality, litter, development and lack of recreational opportunities were among the chief concerns in an upcoming report on the Buffalo Creek watershed, which extends from Buffalo Township to north of Chicora in Butler County.
Keeping the beautiful and biologically diverse Buffalo Creek area that way continues to be a challenge, according to an upcoming 10-year update report from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP). The nonprofit owns Todd Nature Reserve in Buffalo Township and other biologically important areas. The nonprofit is building a nature center along the Butler-Freeport Community Trail.
Almost 80 percent of the watershed in Butler and Armstrong counties is forest and farms; 99 percent is privately owned, according to Sarah Koenig, conservation director for ASWP.
Audubon has been tracking and encouraging stewardship of the watershed. The nonprofit is looking for public comment for “Buffalo Creek Watershed Plan, 10 Year Update.” It will post a draft of the report by May on its website.
The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds awarded a $10,000 planning grant for the report.
Public sentiment on the watershed so far has been “protect what we have and make it better,” Koenig said.
The watershed continues to adjust to development pressures, especially in southern Butler County.
A new complaint was conspicuous and widespread litter along roadways and streams.
A decade ago, when Audubon asked, the public said they wanted to: Maintain the rural landscape, create a sense of community stewardship and enhance recreational opportunities and the natural environment.
A number of those wishes came true, according to Koenig. Specifically, Koenig noted the increased recreational opportunities with the completion of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, a 21-mile, off-road trail stretching from Freeport to Butler.
For this second study and report, some of the public comments confirm some persisting issues such as water quality. More than 100 residents have already submitted their views of watershed issues, while another 30 provided comments at a meeting in Worthington last week.
During Audubon’s meeting in Worthington, residents, including members of Trout Unlimited, showed a strong interest in a number of issues.
“They came out for preserving existing forests and streams,” said Koenig. “They were interested in working with municipalities to ensure that zoning protects waterways — not allowing development to stretch to a stream, cutting all of the trees.”
Stopping erosion into waterways and creating a buffer zone remains an important issue. Improving water quality was a past and is a present recommendation for the watershed.
There are 341 miles of streams in the watershed; of those, more than 131 have been designated by the state as impaired, according to Koenig.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently awarded a $54,000 grant to help restore waterway buffer zones along the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, she said.
Residents are encouraged to send in their comments to Koenig with their concerns and aspirations for the watershed and can do so by emailing Koenig at firstname.lastname@example.org.