For the second year, a public, online vote selected the winning river from among four nominees. Stonycreek River received 2,777 votes among the more than 8,300 ballots cast. The other finalists were the Kiskiminetas, Middle Monongahela and Upper Juniata rivers.
"The Stonycreek has it all — near-wilderness; pristine trout waters; nationally acclaimed whitewater adventure; and a watershed steeped in natural and historical resources," Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said in a written statement. "Our newest River of the Year has rebounded from abandoned mine drainage threats of the past to unlimited recreational potential of the future. Once again the River of the Year designation raises awareness of the river and its conservation needs, while the public voting format continues to generate local enthusiasm for conservation and recognition of the importance of our waterways."
The department and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, or POWR, administer the River of the Year program. Local organizations submit nominations.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said the $10,000 prize will be used for more river improvements. The Stonycreek River came in second in last year's balloting.
"This is a great success story," Vatavuk said. "It's an honor for the people who worked to clean up the river. (The late) Congressman (John) Murtha worked to put SCRIP together and those people brought the river back from the dead."
SCRIP is the Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project. Last year was the organization's 20th anniversary.
"The turnaround of the Stonycreek River was an accomplishment of SCRIP and of other entities," Len Lichvar, district manager for the Somerset Conservation District, said.
The Oven Run project was the biggest contributor to the Stonycreek River's recovery, he said, as it had a domino effect. Oven Run was a project of the Conservation District, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Office of Surface Mining. The result was the Stonycreek went from a net acidic river to a net alkaline river. That enabled aquatic life and fish to prosper.
"Each of the waterways that were nominated is special and important in its own way," Allan said. "We extend hearty congratulations to the local groups who nominated their rivers, and rallied support for them not only for this vote, but through all of their continued activities and advocacy."
The Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers helps train and organize local watershed associations, as well as the groups that lead a dozen sojourns on rivers around the state each year.
"This year saw record participation in the River of the Year selection process," said POWR Project Manager Joshua Karns. "Congratulations to the supporters of the Stonycreek River, and thanks to the thousands of Pennsylvanians who voted. We look forward to working with the communities in the Stonycreek Watershed to promote and protect their river and all of Pennsylvania's waterways."
Before emptying into the Conemaugh River in Johnstown, Stonycreek River flows 46 miles across the Allegheny Plateau in southern Cambria County and northern Somerset County. Anglers are drawn to Stonycreek Gorge's nine miles of near-wilderness trout water, while the Stonycreek Canyon offers 15 rapids in four miles — the longest set of continuous rapids in the eastern United States.
Now rebounded from the deadly effects of abandoned mine drainage, the Stonycreek River carves out a 468-square-mile watershed that is bordered by the Allegheny Front and Laurel Ridge, and contains rolling farmland, active and reclaimed strip mines, woodlands and former coal-mining communities.
The river corridor contains the historic Forbes Trail and Flight 93 National Memorial, Quecreek Mine rescue site, Quemahoning Reservoir, Greenhouse Park and Whitewater Park — the first constructed set of rapids for boaters in Pennsylvania.
A number of partner organizations support conservation and recreation activities on the Stonycreek River. Primary is the Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative, a nonprofit corporation formed by representatives of recreational, sporting, conservation, economic development and historical groups. Its mission is development and presentation of Stonycreek River heritage corridor's assets.
Several events throughout the year will celebrate the Stonycreek's designation, including a sojourn offering canoeists, kayakers and other paddlers a chance to experience life on the river, and encourage greater understanding of its challenges and potential. The Stonycreek River also will be celebrated with an annual Rivers Month poster issued in June.
Pennsylvania's River of the Year award has been presented annually since 1983.
For more sojourn event information, visit www.pawatersheds.org or contact Joshua Karns at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about DCNR's Rivers Program, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us/brc/rivers.