Rewilding is always a local affair. Perhaps the most important part of rewilding is weaving one’s self and one’s family back into a relationship with a particular landscape. Bioregionalism is one part of that, but to truly rewild takes an even more local focus than that. For our tribe, the Clarion River valley is already multi-generational sacred ground. It’s where the ashes of Jason and Michael’s grandfather can be found, it’s where you’ll find their grandmother’s heart, and for Jason and Giuli, it’s where they first found each other. To trace all the ties that bind the soil of this place to our family would take too much time and delve into far too much personal material, but suffice to say, when rewilding, it’s best not to presume to pick a land to become native to, but to listen to which land calls you.
About the Clarion River
The Clarion is formed at Johnsonburg in central Elk County, Pennsylvania by the confluence of its East and West Branches. The East Branch, approximately 15 miles long, rises in northeastern Elk County and flows southwest through East Branch Clarion River Lake to the join the West Branch. The river flows generally WSW across western Pennsylvania in a tight meandering course past Ridgway and Clarion. It joins the Allegheny from the east in eastern Clarion County approximately 5 miles south of Emlenton.
Before 1817, the Clarion River was more commonly called “Tobeco,” likely a corruption of Tuppeek-hanne, meaning “the alder stream.” Even then, the river ran a deep brown from the many alder trees that seeped tannin into it. Settlers called it the Toby Stream, or Stump Creek (for the many tree stumps cleared for their bark to make tannin, and thus leather) as early as 1809. The name Clarion was given by surveyor Daniel Stanard in 1817, who said the water sounded like a distant clarion.
At the end of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century, much of what is now the Allegheny National Forest and surrounding areas were deforested, in part to make way for the oil boom that followed Edwin Drake’s discovery of oil near Titusville, Pennsylvania on August 27, 1859, but also for wood chemicals. Bark was in especially high demand for local tanneries that produced prodigious amounts of leather. This deforestation significantly degraded the watershed of the upper Allegheny in general, leading to floods downstream (particularly in Pittsburgh), and eventually to the declaration of the national forest in 1923, but in the case of the Clarion River, the pollution from the tanneries and later acid mine drainage from upstream near Clearfield also compounded the problem. The Clarion was an important part of the timber industry, allowing timber to be transported downstream to the Allegheny, then the Ohio, and ultimately the Mississippi. With all of this, the Clarion eventually became Pennsylvania’s most polluted waterway.
The regrowth of the forest did much to help restore the Clarion River, as well as a major cleaning effort in the 1980s. Today, the river is used for fishing, canoeing, and other recreational activities, and runs through extensive wildlife and forest areas, including a 4,241 acre inventoried roadless area that has been proposed as a national wilderness area. In 1996, a 51.7 mile stretch of the Clarion River was designated a National Wild & Scenic River.
The Clarion River Wilderness
Proposed Acreage: 6,009
Current Status: Management Area 6.1
Townships: Ridgway, Spring Creek
Ranger District: Marienville
USGS Topographical Maps: Carman, Hallton, Portland Mills
Low Elevation: 1,300′
High Elevation: 1,850′
A Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal for Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest suggested a new wilderness area along the Clarion, downstream from Ridgway. The Allegheny National Forest contains only 2% wilderness, far lower than the 11% average even for eastern national forests. The bitter irony of this plight in the very forest that Howard Zahniser, chief writer of the Wilderness Act, is a prime motivator for the Friends of Allegheny Wilderness. The proposal says:
The proposed Clarion River Wilderness lies entirely in Elk County near the town of Ridgway along a portion of the Clarion River that was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1996. The Forest Service has identified 4,241 acres within the proposed wilderness as an inventoried roadless area. The area is cloaked by a maturing second-growth forest cover that is closed and mostly non-coniferous, though there are fine specimens of white pine present and areas of hemlock cover. On the steep drop south to the Clarion River, dense thickets of rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) and mountain laurel can be found.
The proposed Clarion River Wilderness extends from the Ridgway Country Club west to, and including, the ghost town of Arroyo. The proposed northern boundary is the Laurel Mill Road. Approximately 14 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Clarion River frontage would be included in the designation.
The Clarion River corridor is experiencing rapid growth in recreation use. Canoers and campers from around the country are aware of the area’s rich scenic beauty and come in increasing numbers each year. Also within the proposed wilderness are several archaeological sites related to lumbering history in Elk County. According to local historian John D. Imhof, these include the towns of Arroyo (1831-1930), Bear Creek Eddy (1860-1890), Carman (1890-1955), Irwintown (1851-1880), Lilly Pond (1850-1900), and Portland Mills (1803-present).
The area has high ecological value and provides high quality habitat for a variety of wildlife, including black bear, fishers, and migratory songbirds. On more than one occasion FAW inventory workers have sighted migrant songbird species in the Clarion River roadless area such as the Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) and Baltimore Oriole (Icterus gallbula). Animals that also use the area and have been sighted here include white-tailed deer, Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura), Turkey, and porcupine. In the past the Clarion River has been considered polluted, but since its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1996, clean up has been ongoing and great strides have been made. Biologists expect the prospective Clarion River Wilderness to be high potential Bald Eagle habitat within ten years.
The Clarion River appears to be the southern margin for several aquatic insects of special concern. The insects have been recorded from the Arroyo and Portland Mills stretches of the river and are as follows: ski-tailed emerald (Somatochlora elongate), superb jewelwing (Calopteryx amata), zebra clubtail (Stylurus scudderi), harpoon clubtail (Gomphus descriptus), zorro clubtail (Lanthus parvulus), twin-horned snaketail (Ophiogomphus mainensis), ocellated darter (Boyeria grafiana), brotherly clubtail (Gomphus fraternus), green-faced clubtail (Gomphus viridifrons), moustached clubtail (Gomphus adelphus).
Additionally, the area offers outstanding opportunities for backcountry recreation, education, and scientific research. Approximately half of the Laurel Mill cross-country ski and hiking trail lies south of Laurel Mill Road within the proposed Clarion River Wilderness
While the latest Forest Plan included some new wilderness, it unfortunately neglected the Clarion River Wilderness. But the Wilderness Act puts the power to create new wilderness areas in the hands of Congress, not the Forest Service. Especially if you live in Pennsylvania, please contact your various Congressional critters and ask them to help institute the Clarion River Wilderness Area. The Allegheny is a fragile forest recovering from a legacy of wanton destruction; expanded wilderness protection is the best immediate step to ensure that there’s a viable ecological core so that the forest can endure.
About the Theme
The “Toby” WordPress theme used here honors the spirit of our place. We wanted to emphasize X themes that would resonate graphically with the important themes of rewilding:
- Elegance over complexity. You’ll get the most from this theme if you have the Hoefler Text typeface, but if you don’t (and most people do not), graceful degradation and a reliance on beautiful type were primary aesthetic concerns.
- Being at home in the more-than-human world. Calming earth tones avoid the frenetic energy so often found in rewilding websites; if we want to find a home in the more-than-human world, isn’t it about time we started to feel calm, at peace, and at home with its shades and colors?
- The rhythm of bioregional life. The photograph at the top is a placeholder; soon, we’ll replace it with a photograph of the Tuppeek-hanne from the Clarion River Wilderness that will change with the time of day and night, and later, change with the seasons.