Posted: July 11, 2017

Since last October, community members in the Lost Creek Watershed in Juniata County have been meeting with the AEC to develop a vision for Lost Creek—what they want to see for their watershed now and into the future. With their dedication and passion for the health of their watershed and a blueprint to guide them, the future is bright.

Lost Creek, Juniata County

Lost Creek, Juniata County

Jennifer Winey has a passion for teaching children, a passion for her community in Juniata County, and a passion for the outdoors. These passions have converged in recent years as Jen, a first grade teacher in the Juniata County School District, has participated in the Trout in the Classroom program in partnership with Trout Unlimited. Her students raise trout from eggs in a controlled environment in the classroom. Then they release them in the spring to a local stream.

"Every release day is special, just a magical day for the kids," notes Jen. "The kids get attached to the little trout, and take great pride in seeing them swim free in their natural environment. They learn a lot about how to care for our environment from this experience."

But Jen admits that this year's trout release had extra meaning. For the first time, her class released trout in Lost Creek, her home waters.

Jen is part of a group of local residents and stakeholders who have come together in recent years to focus efforts in Lost Creek in Juniata County. The creek is a high quality trout stream in its forested headwaters, but begins to transition to a warmer water fishery and suffer impairments from runoff as it flows through more agricultural and developed valleys before entering the Juniata River in Cuban Mills. As such, many of the challenges Lost Creek faces are similar to other watersheds in rural parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania.

But Lost Creek was pegged for its restoration potential. Several years ago, analysis by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) concluded that Lost Creek was prime for focused efforts to increase the range of brook trout through habitat improvements, particularly stream restoration and forest riparian buffers.

TNC reached out to local groups such as the Juniata County Conservation District, local educators like Jen, and Village Acres, a certified organic farm and CSA located on the banks of Lost Creek. Others were brought into the partnership, including DCNR, Juniata College the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Wildlife Program, and the AEC, whose work in the Conewago watershed caught TNC's eye.

The partnership supported a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant proposal submitted by the Juniata County Conservation District, (JCCD) which was awarded in 2016. This grant funded JCCD's leadership work to facilitate a showcase stream restoration project at Lost Creek Golf Course undertaken by USFWS Partners for Wildlife, development of a nutrient management plan for the golf course by Penn State turf scientist Peter Landschoot, watershed assessment work by Juniata College, and assistance to the newly-formed Juniata Watershed Alliance, Juniata County's first watershed group.

The grant also allowed the AEC to facilitate a visioning process for the watershed. From October 2016 through April 2017, a vision team of 14 diverse Lost Creek residents and other stakeholders met to identify issues, challenges, opportunities and priorities to achieve and maintain a healthy watershed. A vision statement, capturing the community's vision for the future of the watershed, was created:

We envision a healthy and beautiful stream that enhances and reflects the spirit of our rural community and its carefully stewarded landscape.

Three goals intended to achieve this vision were developed: (1) increase public awareness of and commitment to conservation; (2) improve water quality and stream habitat; and (3) enhance quality of life for community members. The team also created several action items for each goal, providing concrete implementation steps. A vision report was written by the AEC to capture the community's vision, describe the process, and set forth a plan of action for the watershed community.

"Lost Creek is a passionate community who cares deeply about its watershed," said AEC director Matt Royer, who facilitated the process with help from watershed technician Jenna Mackley. "With the success of the restoration project at the golf course, the initiatives undertaken by the Juniata Watershed Alliance, and other efforts, a lot of local momentum is building."

The vision established by Lost Creek community members will help grow that momentum.

"It was an energizing and enlightening process," said Julie Hurst, a member of the vision team and the Juniata Watershed Alliance's vice president. "We hope the vision we've created will serve as a blueprint for our collective efforts, not only in Lost Creek but in all of Juniata County's watersheds."

By Jenna Mackley and Matt Royer