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Town Creek

town creek


The Town Creek Watershed covers 152 square miles of Bedford County, Pennsylvania as well as Allegany County, Maryland—all this land area drains into Town Creek. Close to half of this remarkable watershed in Pennsylvania and almost one forth of it in Maryland is preserved as state forests and game lands. Eighty percent of the entire watershed is forested with the remainder mostly in small farms and isolated homesteads. Small scale agriculture and forest products augmented by tourism and outdoor recreation comprise the economic base of the region.

The entire watershed has barely 4,000 residents widely distributed with greater concentrations at Chaneysville in Pennsylvania, and at Flintstone and Old Town below the Mason-Dixon Line in Maryland. Because its watershed is relatively undeveloped, Town Creek remains one of the few near pristine streams draining into the Potomac River.

Starting in the Pennslvania highlands of Monroe and Southampton Townships, this jewel of a stream winds its way 52 miles through forest and farm on its way to the Potomac at Oldtown, Maryland, from which it takes its name. The excellent water quality of this scenic stream supports abundant populations of pollution intolerant insects and 44 species of fish, including trout and smallmouth bass. Many of the tributaries host naturally reproducing trout populations.

town creek

Natural History

The Town Creek Watershed boasts one of the richest natural heritages in the Upper Potomac area. There are more tree species in the Green Ridge Forest alone than in all of Europe. Paw Paw, Cucumber Tree, Sugar Maple, Butternut, Allegheny Plum, to name a few are all found here. With all the woodlands in the watershed, the fortunate hiker might encounter such elusive mammals as the red or gray fox, bobcat, black bear, or perhaps even a mink.

The nature enthusiast will discover over 218 bird species ranging in size from the golden eagle that winters in the area to the butterfly-like warblers that devour the forest insects. The presence of one warbler, the Louisiana Water Thrush, is an indicator of the clean streams in the watershed because its diet consists mainly of aquatic insects. Even in the evening hours the sounds vibrating from both wetlands and forest attest to the biological diversity of the area. Delight to the loud, rhythmic calls of the whip-poor-will as it whistles its name. The screech owl's call, an eerie descending whinny, may unnerve you at first until you learn that this dwarfish creature is only 7 inches tall!

From old growth Hemlock stands at Sweet Root State park to shale cliffs, caves and mussel beds, many unusual habitats exist here. Try waling along the desert-like shale barrens high above Town Creek. You may discover our only cactus, the prickly-pear cactus, which bears showy yellow flowers in early summer. Local pioneers in the area named the cactus “devils tongue” referring to the sharp barbed bristles on the rounded leaf pads.

More serious plant enthusiasts can try searching for two rare plants that grow on shale barren areas—shale ragwort, a yellow-flowered aster that resembles a cat's paw and Allegheny stone crop, a sedum with fleshy leaves that bears glowing pale pink petals.

If you descend the sheer rock cliffs in the spring, you might find the hairy-tailed Allegheny Wood Rat, also known as a pack rat. Its nest, sometimes located on a rock ledge, is composed of sticks and rubbish. A sharp-eyed observer might even catch a fleeting glimpse of a five-lined skink or a fence lizard scurrying among the rocks.

If you canoe Town Creek, a beautiful quiet world unfolds: the sight of a doe and fawn on a small beach amidst red cardinal flowers…overhanging rhododendron and mountain laurel…the deep shade of the hemlocks…trout darting in clear green depths…a cruising osprey…a startled beaver slapping its tail…a great blue heron flapping upstream. Flowing on through the tropical lushness of summer, the blazing glory of Appalachian fall, then hushed in winter's frozen grip, Town Creek is a constant source of delight and inspiration to all who live or visit here.

town creek

Human History

Situated between Polish Mountain and the Green Ridge in the east and Warrior Mountain in the west, the Town Creek Valley is part of the famous “Warrior's Path of the Five Nations.” Members of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk tribes traveled this route between the south and the central New York area. One of the highest regional concentrations of Native American artifacts can be found in the valley, dating back thousands of years. George Washington frequently stopped at Old Town during the French and Indian wars, when the area was part of the nation's western frontier. The house of the son of his friend, Thomas Cresap, still stands as the oldest building in Allegany County. The Chaneysville area in Bedford County was a component of the Underground Railway during the Civil War era. Newly spanning the creek is the Hewill Coverd Bridge, dating to the 1800's.

Despite the long history of settlement, the extremely rugged, convoluted terrain is not endowed with extensive flat land suitable for farming nor is there significant mineral wealth. This lack of major exploitable resources has, in the end, helped to preserve the area thus far from the impact of suburban sprawl and commercial development which has affected other regions to the west and east.

town creek buffer

Threats & Problems

There are problems in paradise. Popular swimming areas are experiencing occasional high fecal coliform counts. Some residents report that the water is not as clear as it used to be. Acid rain has made the northern portion of Flintstone Creek no longer suitable for trout stocking. A ten-fold increase in acidity has been observed after rain events and snow melts, even in the well-buffered main stem portions. Inadequate streamside tree cover contributes to excessive erosion and can exacerbate locally high summer temperatures in Town Creek. Widespread over browsing by the white-tailed deer threatens the regeneration of our forests with serious implications for damage to riparian ecosystems. Failure of some landowners to implement best management practices in their operations poses a potential threat to water quality. A small but accelerating stream of building permits and industrial site applications suggests another long-term problem — uncontrolled commercial and residential development in the area. Cut in half by Interstate 68, the Town Creek Watershed will continually experience pressure from the rapidly urbanizing areas to the east.

Other threats to the watershed include exotic invasive species - aggressively spreading species without natural predators. Because they do not have natural predators, they are able to out-compete the native flora and fauna in the area. This problem can be exacerbated by another watershed threat - timber harvesting that takes place in an unsustainable way. Managed timber harvests help maintain the diversity and health of a forest. Without this type of management, the forest's composition can be altered, opening up habitat for undesirable and invasive species.

The ridge and valley terrain of the region does not have adequate water resource to sustain extensive development of any kind and it is especially prone to erosion and flooding. These trends should serve as a wake up call that Town Creek needs some tender loving care if it is to survive the next century with its natural environment and residents' way of life intact.