/ News Southeast Ohio Magazine
Curing the Monday Creek Blues
Communities Come Together to Clear the
Story by Lowell Kempf
Photos by Sarah Wigdalski
"That could be clean water," says Marsha Wickle of the
U.S.Forest Service. "There's no reason for this, no sense
in it all." She looks down at a stream of water bubbling
into a hole in the ground. The hole sucks the water into
the abandoned coal mines lining the hills of Majestic Mine
in Athens County.
Orange foam forms around a drainage pipe that has to be
regulary replaced because the water dissolves it.
The water coughs from a grate covering the mines
entrance, the last stretch of Monday Creek before it reaches
the Hocking River. "We had an engineer out here last
spring," Wickle says. "He was a tall, skinny guy.
He stepped into that and he was up to his knees in an instant.
Its pretty deep."
Monday Creeks problems may be deep, but Wickle is
just one of many people willing to wade in and make a difference.
Concerned citizens have joined to make Monday Creek healthy
again. They yearn to overcome a century of problems. Grassroot
organizations have joined with federal agencies to fufill
this mission. Yet, cleaning Monday Creek will be a formidable
Further back in the woods, a clean stream pours into a
hole in the clay. Through the hole, the water joins with
Monday Creek in the Majestic Mine, becoming part of the
pollution that flows from the mine entrance. Around the
hole, huge earth mounds form a 10-foot ditch into which
the stream to flow.
"Thats caused by subsidence," Wickle explains.
"Originally, we thought that we needed a chemical solution
but a graduate student spent some months examining it. Turns
out that this is an engineering problem." The problem,
she says, can be treated far easier and cheaper than they
had originally imagined.
Wickle explains how the water can be cleaned by redirecting
the stream to the surface, as it used to flow. The earthworks
will cost roughly $150,000 and the work will solve an obvious
problem. A chemical solution would cost much more. The Majestic
Mine makes up only a small portion of Monday Creek, a problem
which will cost more than that to reclaim. The communities
around Monday Creek prefer that price, though, to living
with a polluted creek.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency annually lists
Monday Creek as one of the 10 worst water problems in Ohio,
the creek is not the only polluted stream in Southeast Ohio.
What makes Monday Creek different is the Monday Creek Restoration
Project. A group of citizens are making it the prototype
for stream restoration throughout Appalachia.
Creeks have influence beyond their beds, connecting to
the ground water supply and branching into tributaries.
One creek affects hundreds of square miles of watersheds
covering multi-county areas and requiring multi-county responsibility.
Monday Creek flows through Perry, Hocking, and Athens counties
collecting contamination from mining areas along the way.
Small towns in the watershed are working towards solutions.
When all comunities join in the fight, it makes each problem
easier to solve. Every resident who gives a little money,
goes out into the creek the to collect trash, or sits on
a township ecological board helps bring solutions to the
Monday Creek inherits its problems from the areas
coal mining history. The creek, named by surveyors for the
night they camped by it in the 18th century, has served
settlers with water and fishing since pioneers arrived in
Ohio. Evidence of Indian settlements dating back to 1000
AD. indicates people lived along the waterway for more than
a thousand years. The Industrial Revolution, however, transformed
the creek into a severe pollution problem.
Companies have mined the Monday Creek valley for any available
natural resource, from lumber to coal. The earliest coal
mines can be traced to the 1860s, long before any government
restrictions existed. After World War II, coal mining methods
included full scale strip mining from the surface.
The mining companies tore up the landscape and recontoured
the land, redirecting and damming streams. The companies
dumped the coal and dirt from the mines they couldnt
use outside the mines, which built up hillsides called gobpiles.
Water flows through old mine tunnels and soaks into gobpiles,
becoming acidic and polluted. Some mines have been closed
for more than a century but the sites continue to pollute
"The acidity of the water ranges from a pH of four
down to a low of 2.4," says Mary Stoertz of Ohio Universitys
geography program. She sits in her office, surrounded by
photographs and maps of Monday Creek and charts of the watersheds
pollution levels. Stoertz serves as one of the projects
university liaisons and technical advisers, as well as one
of its spokepersons. "Fish and most plants cant
survive a pH lower than six. Its kind of like lemon
juice. To put it in gritty words."
Stoertz continues, "You can take a can of soda pop,
put it in the stream, and a week later it will be gone because
it will dissolve. The water has nothing living in it except
for microbes. I have a friend, Steve Warsley, who was doing
a study in a tributary. He scared a fish out of the tributary
into Snowfork, which is part of Monday Creek. The fish sat
there for about five minutes, turned around, and swam right
back, between his legs, to get back to the tributary. Fish
dont do that."
The Monday Creek Restoration Project began in 1994 when
Pam Stachler, a graduate student at the time and now hydrologist
for the Forest Service, led a group of teenagers in a water-quality
survey of Snowfork Bend.
Although Tri-County Community Action Agency had her conduct
the work to encourage teens to perform community service,
these water measurements served as the catalyst for several
local agencies and organizations to become involved with
Stachlers attracted the attention of Rural Action,
a grassroots nonprofit organization for rural development.
Mary Ann Borch, a member of Rural Action, had worked with
watershed areas in Ohio before and was interested in finding
a watershed needing improvement in Southeast Ohio.
She heard about federal funding plans for acid- mine cleanup
and saw Monday Creek as a project that would address both
goals. Late in 1994, she called a meeting of interested
parties, and they founded the restoration project.
Old methods of restoring watersheds include dropping pulverized
limestone and sodium hydroxide in the water, which neutralizes
acid, raising the waters pH level so it can support
Turquoise water flows through stained banks
at the Essex Mine.
This, however, only addresses
the symptoms of pollution, not the source. Acidic water
continues to flow from upstream and the cleansed water travels
through more gobpiles and mines. The expensive acetylene
materials must be dumped into the water at a constant rate.
Researchers have been exploring longer-lasting and lower-maintenance
solutions that involve biological resources, such as natural
marshlands that clean water. "Oxygen is needed for
the reactions to take place that contaminate the water,"
Stoertz says. "Marshes are low-oxygen environments."
If the water goes through enough marshland, it gets clean.
The project plans to force the headwaters through a limestone
drain into deep pools. The pools will help the particles
floating in the water settle.
Then channels will redirect the water through marshlands.
The system will be expensive, but it will clean the creek
and require little maintenance. These plans require detailed
knowledge of the watershed, covered by another part of the
In another office, Fred Calef III surrounds himself with
maps far different than Stoertzs. Part of the Institute
for Local Government Administration and Rural Development,
Calef maps Southeast Ohio, including Monday Creek. "Its
part of GIS, the new method of creating maps on computers,"
Calef says. "In the old days, maps were only place
names and streets. What were doing is all the information,
all kinds, about an area and layering it into one map.
The GIS department compiles this information for the Monday
Creek Project. A normal map would just tell where the creek
runs. What the department creates with GIS contains the
most current information: the exact pH level of a certain
part of the creek, the location of a log jam, the depth
of mine tunnels. The restoration Project needs this information
for their planning. Calef makes sure they have it.
Along Monday Creek, researchers gather the information
Calef needs. "I think its disgusting to look
at," says Bryan Overly, a graduate student in Ohio
Universitys environmental studies department. He and
his friend, Jay Stotz, are taking readings on the water
flowing from the Essex Mine.
Out of a pile of rocks, a small waterfall cascades, offering
the overpowering smell of sulfur. The rocks and logs in
the water are covered with a white film resembling old paint.
A murky cloud turquoise milk floats in the water.
"We think that white stuff is an aluminum-eating bacteria,"
says Stotz. "Theyre planning on putting a quick
drop tube on this spot."
He describes a tube containing limestone gravel that the
water constantly turns up. That will cut down on the aluminum
building up on the limestone the way it would if the water
just ran over a layer of gravel.
"The problem is that this microbe seems to thrive
in fast moving water," says Stotz. "See how its
the worse where the stream runs the fastest? I think theyll
need something else." Tests such as those Stotz is
conducting reveal knowledge the restoration project needs
in order to come up with viable solutions.
For the first time in decades, Monday Creek has money invested
in research and cleaning the creek. Borch has received government
grants. There is at least $500,000 in grant money now behind
the project and more is coming. However, researchers estimate
the total cost will reach more than $50 million for the
Plans for the money focus on the Rockrun Gobpile, near
the headwaters of Monday Creek in the northern part of Hocking
County. The gobpile, also known as Seven Chimneys, due to
the local brick-making industry, sits next to beautiful
streams spider-webbing the countryside.
Black peaks of coal gravel stretch upwards 80 feet. Huge
gullies cut into the slopes, flooding whenever it rains.
Although the streams that run through the gobpile look clear,
they possess the lowest pH level in Monday Creek.
This summer, the face of the Rockrun Gobpile will change.
The Monday Creek Restoration Projects plans include
covering the gobpile with soil that can support life and
leveling the slopes so erosion wont eat away the hills.
Experts estimate it will cost $500,000, but the work will
clean one of Mondays Creeks ugliest problems.
"Really, we must think were superhuman,"
says Wickle, looking at the Gobpile, "thinking we can
change all this. Its really egotistical of us. But,
there are so many of us behind this who want to see this
area change. A lot of us will be retiring in twenty years.
We can make a difference and see it by then."
All along Monday Creek, people are coming together to make
a difference. Modern techniques backed by hard work and
eager hands will do their best to overcome a century of
abuse within the next 30 years.
Life can return to the watershed. The Monday Creek Restoration
Project intends to make this a reality. People remember
their great grandfathers catching fish in Monday Creek,
and they dream of their grandchildren doing the same.