Reborn Pennsylvania trout streams
The last week of July/first week of August I visited my father and siblings in Northeastern Pennsylvania and was very pleasantly surprised to find the Little Schuylkill River and the middle and lower Lehigh River were supporting rather large and healthy populations of trout. The reason I was so surprised is these were biologically dead from acid mine water (Little Schuylkill) or acid mine water, zinc mining pollution, and zinc smelting pollution (middle and lower Lehigh) since the middle 1800's. Obviously something changed for the better.
Dad and my brother Dave told me that a small group of local fishermen from the area around Tamaqua, PA (it is a mere 7 miles from where I grew up in the small village of Delano, PA) began looking into how to bring the Little Schuylkill back to life after 150 years of being polluted by the coal mining. They found adding liming stations on the river would neutralize the sulfuric acid from the coal mines and began a campaign to get other fishermen and sportsmens groups and the legislature to put a single liming station on it right below where the 4 small streams (only one of them was polluted, the others supported trout) that form it came together and formed the river. This single liming station proved to be so successfull that insects, minnows, and trout began to repopulate the first 4 miles of this small river.
This allowed them to get more liming stations downstream and now the Little Schuylkill River in the area from New Ringgold to Origsburg is considered class 1 trout water. Remarkable considering it was biologically dead as recently as 1985. Now there are several fly shops and many people fishing this 30 mile long small river. And because liming was so successful on it, it was tried on its sister river the North Branch Schuylkill downstream of Pottsville, PA. The result is not only do both the Little Schuylkill and North Branch Schuylkill now support trout, the mainstem Schuylkill supports trout to an area downstream of Reading, PA, or another 30 miles of river. To put this into historic reference, during Colonial times, the Schuylkill River had brook trout and shad in it all the way to its mouth in Philadelphia, where it joined the Delaware; but by the time of the Civil War, it was biologically dead to well below Reading from the acid mine water.
The middle Lehigh was badly hurt by acid mine water from stream that joined it from near the town of Weatherly, PA to below Mauch Chunk, PA (which is now known as Jim Thorpe) some 20 miles of river. These steams are now cleaned up and no longer dump acid mine water in the river. Weatherly is 15 miles from the village of Delano and Mauch Chunk is 20 miles from Delano. The Lehigh below Mauch Chunk beginning near the town of Lehighton, PA (which is 25 miles from Delano) all the way down stream to Palmerton had zinc mines and zinc smelters along it and both the mines and the smelters dumped lots of toxic crap into the river; thus, it was biologically dead as well.
The Lehigh now supports trout all the way to its confluence with the Delaware at Easton, PA. This means that over 50 miles of river have been reclaimed since the mid-'80's. There are now fly shops, rafting companies, kyac outfitters, general tackle shops, and even fishing guides in the towns along the Lehigh River. My brother told me Pennsylvania Fish Commission is beginning to try and reintroduce shad to the Lehigh.
The reason I posted these success is that the movement to restore them was started by sportsfishers and they show that it can be done if fishermen get themselves informed, get other interested user groups involved (like rafters), inform the public, and work on local legislators (or get new ones elected, possibly from among the ranks of the concerned sportsfishers).
I honestly never thought I'd see in my lifetime the rebirth of these rivers, and yet they have been reborn. Next time I visit Pennsylvania, I will be taking a rod with me so I can fish them because they are rather pretty rivers that now hold good populations of trout, instead of sulfuric acid from the coal.