MAN - A stream long associated with death is having new life breathed into it.
Buffalo Creek, where 125 people perished after the 1972 collapse of a dam built from coalmine waste, is rapidly becoming one of southern West Virginia's most popular trout streams.
"The change has been pretty dramatic," said Perry Harvey, president of the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association. "For nearly 40 years after the flood, the creek had nothing going for it. Nothing grew in it, and it was littered with trash and debris."
A $750,000 stream-restoration project and the ongoing efforts of dozens of volunteers have transformed 7 miles of the 10-mile-long creek into a place where trout can thrive and anglers can fish without stumbling over someone's discarded television set.
Over the past two years, work crews have constructed 192 structures designed to slow the stream's flow, create a deeper and narrower channel, and provide hiding places for fish and other aquatic creatures.
Chris White's company, Appalachian Stream Restorations, oversaw that effort. White said the creek, dredged and re-channeled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the 1972 flood, had never recovered.
"A stream of this size and gradient should have a pool about every 100 to 150 feet," he explained. "Before we started, Buffalo Creek averaged one pool every 2 miles. The rest of it was shallow, had no fish-holding structure, and ran straight as a string. The only pools were at places where the corps had to turn the stream to cross under the road."
The wide, shallow, ramrod-straight arrangement caused the stream to flow far too swiftly for insects, crayfish and even minnows to thrive.
"To slow the water down, we trucked in boulders and built cross vanes and j-hooks, and created pocket water by placing some of those boulders in random clusters. We also used logs to deflect currents and create turbulence," White said.
A grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection paid for most of the work. Cliff's Logan County Coal Co., a local mining outfit, donated all the rock needed for the project.
White estimated the company's in-kind contribution at $100,000 or more. "Their participation made a huge difference in what we were able to get accomplished," he said.
Local residents were skeptical of the structures at first, but have since warmed to their presence.
"A lot of people didn't want us putting in structures near their houses because they were afraid they might push the water into their back yards," White recalled. "After they saw what the structures did, and how they attracted trout, a lot of them came back and said, 'Could you put one of those things behind my house?'"
Even before the structures started going in, watershed association officials mounted a grass-roots effort to clear away 40 years' worth of accumulated trash and debris. Three times each year, volunteers from Man High School police the length of the creek, picking up trash and litter as they go.
"They do a remarkable job," Harvey said.