BY EVA MAYS
Deckers Creek cuts its way through north-central West Virginia, from its headwaters near Arthurdale to where it empties into the Monongahela River.
The waterway is beloved by outdoor enthusiasts of all varieties, including kayakers, swimmers and rock climbers. But in the 1990s, it wasn’t an appealing option for recreational use.
For decades, the 64-square-mile Deckers Creek watershed suffered from a variety of ills, including acid mine drainage, bacteria from sewage overflows, heavy metals and trash. In 1995, an informal group of outdoor enthusiasts banded together to invest in the health of the creek, calling themselves The Friends of Deckers Creek.
“They realized that the creek had the potential to be a community asset, instead of a liability,” said Michaela Collins, the FODC Environmental Education and Outreach coordinator VISTA. The organization began to accept donations in 1997 and gained 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status in 2000.
Acid mine drainage, or AMD, is a threat facing many of the area’s watersheds. Before the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, mining companies were not obligated to clean up after themselves when vacating a site. Due to these practices, abandoned mines discharged highly acidic water rich in heavy metals, which then contaminated waterways.
“When the PH gets low due to acid mine drainage, it compromises the ability of fish and macroinvertebrates to intake dissolved oxygen and reduces their metabolism, said Collins. “It’s pretty much impossible for them to survive.”
One of the FODC’s main missions is to remediate such drainage. One such remediation site is at Sandy Run. First constructed in 1997, it was newly renovated in 2019 and serves to remove 98% of the acid that would otherwise end up in Decker’s Creek.
The water at the site begins at a 2 or 3 on the PH scale, about the same as lemon juice. The acidic water passes through treatment ponds that are lined with lime rocks. Lime, which has a high PH, neutralizes the low PH of the acidic water. The treatment process also serves to remove heavy metals like iron, manganese and aluminum from the water.
In addition to Sandy Run, the FODC operates six other remediation sites.
The Friends of Deckers Creek also works to educate and inform the community on issues facing the environment.
“We believe that everyone — no matter what your background is, what your interests are — everyone deserves environmental literacy,” said Collins.
The group operates the Outdoor Learning Park behind the Sabraton Kroger on Earl L. Core Road. This inclusive green space includes an educational pavilion, murals, walking trails, gardens and art that bring environmental issues to the forefront of visitors’ minds. The FODC welcomes volunteers to help with the park. The group also holds regular Make-It-Shine cleanups, which bring together volunteers to remove trash from along Decker’s Creek. At a recent cleanup event in April, over 100 volunteers picked up more than two tons of trash.
The FODC also welcomes community members to the Citizen Scientist Program, which began in 2013. Citizen scientists collect samples from Deckers Creek and record and report data to the FODC.
“This program is a huge help to us because the data gives us a better picture overall of how well our remediation is doing and notifies us of any pollution,” said Collins.
“We’re always super eager to have people get involved and come out and help us.”
She encourages community members to call the group at 304-292-3970 to inquire about volunteer opportunities.
The Friends of Deckers Creek accepts donations by PayPal, credit, or debit cards through its website, https://deckerscreek.org. Community members can also help support the FODC by shopping with Kroger Community Rewards (https://www.kroger.com/i/community/community-rewards) and Amazon Smile (https://smile.amazon.com)