Residents of Philadelphia now have a scenic, thriving oasis right in their own backyards. Thanks to years of hard work and investments by public and private-sector partners, Pennypack Creek is being transformed from a waterway fragmented by a series of obsolete dams to a healthy river at the center of the community.
“The Pennypack Restoration project is a textbook example of what can go right when public and private entities work together to benefit everyone,” said Representative Michael McGeehan. “I’m thrilled that together we’ve been able to restore this treasure in our own backyards.”
Since 2005, three dams have been removed from Pennypack Creek. A fourth removal is slated for this year, as well as a rock-ramp fishway at a fifth barrier. The remaining two dams are being studied for fish passage alternatives. A free-flowing stream is being reborn from this former series of stagnant pools.
“A healthy river makes for a thriving community,” says American Rivers President Rebecca Wodder. “The joy of a free-flowing Pennypack Creek is not only benefiting fish and wildlife, but it’s also becoming a hub for outdoor fun.”
Former Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said she is thrilled to see her hometown creek rebounding. “I grew up in Pennypack Park, and spent countless hours splashing around in Pennypack Creek. I am proud our efforts have restored this creek so today’s children and future generations can share the wonder I discovered here as a young girl.”
But humans aren’t the only ones benefiting. The construction of the Frankford Avenue dam in 1967 cut off migratory fish from their historic spawning areas in Pennypack Creek. Removal of this dam, with the help of Growing Greener, means that migratory fish coming up from the Delaware River can once again access this habitat.
“This collaborative approach to restoring Pennypack Creek exemplifies the type of effective, locally driven project that the NOAA Restoration Center seeks to support,” said NOAA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Tim Keeney. “The project improves community safety, enhances recreational opportunities, and promises to restore populations of American shad, blueback herring, hickory shad, and striped bass.”
The progress on the Pennypack has been made possible by combining hundreds of thousands of dollars in public and private funds. In addition to Growing Greener, American Rivers, NOAA Restoration Center, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, FishAmerica Foundation, Philadelphia Water Department, Fairmount Parks Commission, and AquaPenn have invested in the restoration of Pennypack Creek.
American Rivers and the Fish and Boat Commission have also helped remove nearly 50 obsolete and unsafe dams statewide and restored historic fishery access to more than 315 miles of rivers. These projects were made possible by a $767,000 Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener grant to American Rivers.
The funding established the Free-Flowing Pennsylvania grant program, which has leveraged over $3 million in additional funding to support river restoration projects throughout Pennsylvania.
“Removing these obsolete dams is a smart move that protects the environment, and promotes economic development,” Secretary McGinty added. “The Commonwealth’s strategic investments in dam removal projects help streams return to their free-flowing, natural state; restore the natural ecology of those waterways; and support growing fish populations. Healthy streams with abundant life attract tourists and fisherman and add to the quality of life in Pennsylvania.”
“The story of America is one told with water. Find your river, and reconnect with it, learn its story, and help write a new chapter,” added Wodder. “The dream of a thriving river and a thriving community doesn’t have to be a fairy tale; every river story deserves a happy ending.”