Lycoming Creek Stream Bank Stabilization Project

The week of July 16th was planned by the Lycoming Creek Watershed Association as a work project to stabilize a section of eroding bank on Lycoming Creek in Pennsylvania, near the village of Bodines. Originally the project was to take place last September but a couple of uninvited visitors named Irene and Lee showed up on rather short notice. They were really bad visitors; besides not being invited, they chased away the invited guests, ate all the food, stayed too long, and left a mess when they departed.

So the project was rescheduled to start on July 16th when the water level would hopefully be low enough to permit completion of the work. In addition to the Lycoming Creek Watershed Association, the project also involved the Habitat Improvement Department of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who engineered the project design, biology students from Lycoming College in Williamsport, and a local contractor, Darren Smith Excavating, of Trout Run. Isn’t that a great name for a little town? It is named for the stream that flows through the village.

My friend, neighbor, and sometime fishing partner Jim and I “volunteered” to help with the project. Volunteers were requested to bring gloves, work boots, waders, hammers, sledge hammers, rakes, shovels, etc. Fun stuff. I picked him up at 7:30 AM on July 16th. We were to report on site at 8:00 AM. The project location is on property owned by Sheshequin Campground. We arrived, parked the car, talked to Mike, the project coordinator, and met the contractor, who as it turned out, I already knew. Darren had installed my new septic system at my home in 2003; a replacement of a failed gravity system dating to 1979 when my wife and I built this place.

We eventually ended up on the creek bank under the bridge, watching the water. There were rising trout all over that pool, and no one was fishing. I have to say it was mighty tempting because I had all my gear in the car. We didn’t do too much except talk for well over an hour until the heavy equipment had a chance to start, and move ahead a bit to allow for the follow up grunt work.

The plan was to install 18 three-log vanes, upstream single-bank stabilization devices on the leeward side of the bank. Darren Smith’s equipment on site consisted of a Bobcat, backhoe, a large power shovel, and a dump truck. He had already placed a couple loads of large rip-rap rock and logs on site. As the shovel and backhoe began excavating along the bank for placement of the first couple log vanes, we continued watching those rising trout. They seemed to be cruising…couldn’t tell what they were taking.

Finally three logs were placed and we got our marching orders. The Fish Commission habitat guys had a large pickup truck filled with tools and equipment; re-bar, power drills and hammers, sledges, shovels, chainsaws, etc. They were a couple young fellows who, due to the physical nature of their work, and their stature; let’s just say I would want them on my side in a fight. One end of the logs would be buried in the bank, the other rested on the stream bed, pointing upstream at about a 60 to 70-degree angle, and they were placed at a slight angle above horizontal, higher on the bank side. This design effectively slows the force of the water which causes lighter sediments, gravel, and smaller rocks to settle out of the current against the bank and above the device. Primarily the devices are intended to divert the main thrust of the current away from the bank, reducing erosion. Each of the two lower logs was drilled and pinned in place by five four-foot long re-bars. Then the top log was pinned to the lower logs by six two-foot re-bars. Once this was done, then the equipment would come in, place rip-rap, and then rock fill and soil is used to top dress each device. A couple times Darren backed his dump truck to the bank and placed an entire load, which was actually half a load due to the weight limit on the bridge over the creek. Then the backhoe would come in and arrange the rock.

The volunteers from Lycoming College consisted of a co-ed group; four people, one man and three women, both days, different crews. I will say they got right into it, which made it easier for us “old guys.” Once the holes were drilled, the team worked starting the re-bar into the logs with small hammers. Then the hammer drill was brought into play. One of the girls, who happened to be a Trout Run native, was helping the habitat employee hoist and operate this beast. This thing must have weighed about 60 pounds. The two of them elevated it to the top of each re-bar, three feet above the top of the log, centering the roughly one-inch opening of the “hammer” over the 5/8″ diameter re-bar, which wasn’t exactly easy. Keith did most of the lifting and Laura centered the hammer over the re-bar. A good team effort. Each re-bar would be driven down leaving about 5 inches protruding, which was then bent over with a long pipe lever and then pounded down with a sledge to hold the logs in place. To give you an idea of the effectiveness of power tools, the hammer drill could pound down a re-bar in about five seconds, compared to a few we did by hand with an eight-pound sledge, twenty-five to thirty whacks taking a couple minutes. Not to mention the beneficial effect of the integral cardiovascular exercise. Keith mentioned that up until three years ago, all the re-bar on their projects was driven by hand. He remarked, “That really separated the men from the boys.” I can vouch for that.

Top view of one of the first log vanes of the project. In the pool below this riffle, fish were rising until the heavy equipment put them down when the power shovel pulled out a mature oak tree in the middle of the pool along the bank. The butt end of that oak tree was cut to size and used for a bank-anchored root ball device.

Darren Smith’s power shovel excavating the bank for the installation of the butt end of the logs.

Keith, from the Habitat Dept. of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PAF&BC) prepare to life “the beast” – hammer drill into position with, Laura, one of the co-ed assistants.

Close up – Keith and Laura driving down the re-bar closest to the bank side. “Supervisor” Mike rests on his sledge hammer handle as the students pound over the re-bar.

Who was the ancient philosopher-guy who said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth?” Was that Archimedes? No matter. One of the students demonstrates the principle of the lever. The length of the pipe allows this woman of small stature to gain leverage and bend over the re-bar stubs. Impressive! I can tell you because I did a few of these myself. You had to put some “umph” into it to git ‘r’ done.

Placing a top log…nothing is drilled or pinned yet.

Watching this equipment do the work, I couldn’t help but think of the history of this valley. Near the village of Ralston there was a 2300 foot incline that was used to haul coal from the mountains.

From Wikipedia:

“The Elmira and Williamsport Railroad (originally called the Williamsport and Elmira Railroad) is a historic railroad that operated in Pennsylvania.

The W&E was organized in 1832 and ran between Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Elmira, New York. It was reorganized as the E&W in 1860, and operated its own property until 1863.

The railroad originally ran north from Williamsport along Lycoming Creek as far as the village of Ralston, and was only extended beyond it to Elmira in 1854.

In 1863 the line was leased by the Northern Central Railway, and in 1910 the line was leased by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line continued to operate until 1972, when it was destroyed by flooding from Hurricane Agnes.”

This was along time ago. Thad S. Up De Graff in his book, Bodines, 1879, describes a place below Ralston along the creek as “the stone wall.” This was reportedly 800 feet long. The point I’m trying to make is that all this work, the mining, logging, iron ore smelting in the Lycoming Creek valley villages above Trout Run that disappeared well before 1900 was all done by teams of men working by hand along with mules and oxen. That was back when men were really men.

Thad Up De Graff and his companions rode the railway from Elmira to Ralston for their annual fishing trips.

Another top log being lowered into position. Black fabric is visible hanging above the log in the center of the image. These device-length sections of covering are four feet wide, and are placed on the upstream side. Triple-folded top edges are nailed into place on the bottom log, and then spread out full width, and covered with stones and rip rap. The bank end of the covering is buried by the fill. Eventually the current will deposit additional fill material in the area immediately upstream of the device during periods of higher water flows. Mike and one of the PAF&BC employees look on.

“The kids” working on a device. They were a great help. Energetic.

Lycoming College Students starting the re-bar. They are enrolled in classes with Mel Zimmerman, PhD., biology instructor at the college. Mr. Zimmerman and his students do many stream-monitoring projects in this area, with a focus on aquatic entomology. During the work, it was encouraging to see these students pick up rocks and say something like, “Oh look, caddis larva.” And nobody’s cell phone or pager went off during the project.

Group effort – Keith from the PAF&BC and a student run the hammer drill (that thing was loud – note their ear plugs), while a couple of the girls share a laugh, demonstrating that this was actually fun! Partially hidden at top of image are Russ Cowles, President of the Lycoming Creek Watershed Association, conferring with an unidentified Association member taking photos.

Upstream view of the project area. The flow during the project was about 25 cfs. We ended up installing 16 three-log vanes and two root-ball devices. A root ball device is where a tree butt with root ball attached is buried and anchored within the bank, taking advantage of debris in the stream bed. One large, mature oak tree had fallen over last fall and was lying in the pool that starts just at the foreground of this photo. The butt of this was used for the first root ball. Its trunk diameter was almost three feet. The uphill slope of each log vane can be seen in this photo. My friend Jim, is in the background, half-way up the stretch of water, with the white t-shirt, preparing for the installation of the sediment covering.

This project was estimated to take four or five days. We completed it in two, except for the remaining rip-rap and fill work that needed to be performed by the heavy equipment. I imagine Darren and his employee remained later that day and into the evening to finish the work.

While working on this project, Mike mentioned that the village of Ralston, a few miles upstream, had just celebrated their 125th Anniversary. His remark made me think of the Ralston area and its native daughter, Elizabeth S. Benjamin, commercial fly tier from Ralston, born in 1829, who according to additional research I discovered started selling trout flies at age the age of 16. That was in 1845. Some of Elizabeth’s flies are displayed in the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont. She was quite possibly the first woman commercial fly tier in the country, since Sara McBride, who currently has that distinction as currently listed in several sources, born in 1844, would have accordingly still been in diapers when Elizabeth sold her first flies. Sara became more famous as an author and was also mentioned frequently in Mary Orvis Marbury’s book, Favorite Flies and their Histories, 1892.

And also, looking at the beauty of several beautiful surrounding mountains, with the Pleasant Stream valley to the east, my mind wandered to the thoughts of Thad S. Up De Graff and his book; Bodines; Or Camping on the Lycoming, written in 1879. What was it like back then? He wrote an account of a day spent where he and a companion walked ten miles up Pleasant Stream, their intent being to fish downstream part way, secure overnight lodging at a family log cabin and fish to the mouth the next day. At that time, Lycoming Creek was a brook trout stream. His book speaks of brook trout that averaged a pound, pound-and-a-half, with occasional larger ones being caught. His book is excellent reading, recounting ten years after the Civil War, of month-long annual trips in June spent camping and fishing on the banks of Lycoming Creek. Sometimes the good old days exert a significant pull and influence on our thoughts.

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2 comments on “Lycoming Creek Stream Bank Stabilization Project

  1. Woolybugah says:

    Don, Great project!.. seeing the “kids” there gives me hope for the future of our enviornment. Thanks for sharing.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Dick;
      Thanks for your comment! Yes I have to agree it is encouraging that young folks are interested in the environment and trout stream restoration. It was the first project of this type that I was involved in for some time, years in fact. Glad you took time to comment, thanks very much!

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