McConnell's Mill, A Discussion on Dam Removal
By Bill Keane
The PA Fish & Boat Commission is removing undesirable dams across the state. I believe that the McConnell’s Mill dam is a great candidate and that TRPC should work with other groups to have it retired.
The dam provides some benefits, but it seems that nearly every whitewater paddler would like to add a rapid to the Slip and remove the tough portage. Cynics could say that this is an impossible task. There may be opposition from park management and from others. My feeling is that it's a winnable endurance contest and worth a big effort.
My analysis of the situation appears below. Please think about it and get back to me with your feelings on this subject.
Thanks, Bill Keane
REASONS TO KEEP THE DAM
- The contained water can turn a gristmill, which could be used for educational purposes if PA starts funding staff at the Mill again. Alternatively, an electric motor could drive the gristmill.
- The waterfall is attractive from downstream when there is a good flow in the creek.
- It would cost money to remove it.
- The grain mill just next to the dam is an attractive structure with historic significance. The dam makes it look more like an active mill than if there were no dam. However, the dam was built in 1965 and therefore has no historic significance.
REASONS TO REMOVE THE DAM
- The dam is a major impediment to enjoying a great whitewater paddling stream because:
- It forces a treacherous and very strenuous portage. Young and athletic paddlers may not mind this, but it is a serious obstacle for handicapped and elderly paddlers. There are one legged and even legless kayakers in whitewater that deserve consideration.
- It eliminates a rapid. The drop within the pond has a gradient of about 80 feet per mile so there is possibly a Class III-IV rapid under the still water.
- The dam harms fishing for the environmental reasons listed below and by eliminating a section of fishable water.
- Prevents free passage of fish and other aquatic life. Fish go upstream to spawn and escape high temperatures. They go downstream to find deep pools to winter in.
- The pond behind the dam is an artificial environment for non-native species. It eliminates a creek section that natural species could inhabit.
- The pond raises summer water temperatures and lowers oxygen levels below the dam, harming aquatic life, most obviously the trout.
- Slippery Rock Creek is a drinking water source for communities downstream of the dam. About 40,000 people rely on the creek for clean, safe drinking water. Dam removal can be a cost-effective and efficient method of improving a stream's water quality. Dam removal restores the flushing flows of moving water and increases dissolved oxygen content.
- The pond has no recreational value and, in my opinion, the stagnant water and concrete structure are eyesores.
- All the other rapids in Slippery Rock Creek are beautiful, so it seems that the one below the pond would be also.
- Tourists could watch paddlers run the rapid.
- Anglers would have easy access to the stream, a rare case on Slippery Rock Creek.
- When there is a good flow in the Creek, many cars in McConnell's Mill State Park have plates from other states, especially West Virginia and Ohio. Removing the awful portage and adding a rapid would make the Creek more attractive to paddlers and sightseers seeking a natural setting.
FINANCIAL ADVANTAGES, IN ADDITION TO INCREASED TOURISM:
- The pond, falls and portage are liability risks and insurance cost factors.
- Dams require regular inspections and can need maintenance.
MAIN OBSTACLE TO DAM REMOVAL:
- Many people initially dislike change or even the idea of change.