Once named after the huge, lumbering, now extinct herds of eastern bison, French Creek remains a national treasure. Pristine and rich in history, the meandering, 117 mile creek flows through a large area of northwestern Pennsylvania.
French Creek provides a habitat for 28 species of freshwater mussels, rare and unusual fish found almost nowhere else, a rich variety of plants, insects and birds, some of which are rare or endangered. Hellbenders, the largest salamander in Pennsylvania call the clear waters, home. The waterway is an environmental treasure identified by the Nature Conservancy as a globally significant. Today, it is also a living classroom for hundreds of students and adults.
Brief Early History
Various Nations of the early Native Americans had several different names for the waterway which was a major transportation route, fishing and hunting location. Large eastern bison were plentiful and provided meat and fur for clothing. The exact meanings of some of the Native American words are unknown.
When the early French explorers arrived in the territory, they had never seen huge animals like the bison. So the explorers dubbed it “Riviere aux Boeufs” or River of Cattle. The designation stuck until 1753 when a young British Major, George Washington, named the waterway, French Creek. Washington traveled French Creek to Fort LeBoeuf, now Waterford, PA, which was erected by the French. The fort was located some twenty miles from another fort, Presque Isle, now Erie, PA. on Lake Erie.
When he arrived, Washington asked the French to leave what the Gov. of Virginia believed to be British territory; the French politely refused. The French and Indian War erupted soon afterwards in the dense forests of the New World Frontier.
After the American Revolution, the area remained sparsely settled ; agriculture reigned and a handful of small villages were inhabited. Transportation declined on the creek as other means of moving goods and people were developed. For much of it’s “American” history the area, was largely used for agriculture, lumber, hunters and anglers. It has remained largely untouched by man-made disturbances.
For the last several decades, a varied group of different conservation and environmental organizations, agricultural, civic and educational organizations began to work together to preserve and improve the watershed area. Numerous projects and educational programs have been completed over the decades and more are planned as additional groups join in the effort to preserve the pristine watershed area for the future.
Recent Environmental Stewardship Example
For the last decade, thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted to help protect the shorelines of important tributaries and along French Creek itself. Trees and shrubs are important to help maintain cool water temperatures necessary for adequate oxygen supplies. The leaves help to provide food for a variety of insects which in turn are used by fish and birds as a food sources. The roots help to prevent stream bank erosion and control run-off pollution.
Students from eight Crawford County schools, along with the Crawford County Conservation District, DCNR Bureau of Forestry and other organizations help to plant the trees and shrubs every year. The program began at Maplewood High School in Crawford County in 2000 and has expanded every year. As of the last planting in the spring of 2010, over 16,000 trees and 12,000 shrubs have been planted in the French Creek watershed area alone..
Many of the “working” students also participate in a range of other environmental projects such as water quality testing, research and monitoring, under the direction of Creek Connections and Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. Creek Connections, founded in the 1999, now works with over forty secondary schools and 50 teachers from school districts in the watershed region and further south into the Pittsburgh area.
French Creek once emptied into Lake Erie but was pushed by receding glaciers to flow south.
French Creek travels mainly through northwestern Pennsylvania and empties into the Allegheny River at Franklin, Pa to it’s eventual destination, the Gulf of Mexico.
The French Creek watershed area encompasses 1,270 square miles.