If only the waters of French Creek could talk — the tales told would be full of adventures.
Named by George Washington himself, the history of Crawford County cannot be told without mention of this tributary of the Allegheny River.
“So many people have stories and memories connected to the creek,” said Brenda Costa, executive director of the French Creek Valley Conservancy.
French Creek’s present is pretty remarkable as well – it was even named as the 2022 Pennsylvania River of the Year – in large part due to conservation efforts of the French Creek Valley Conservancy (FCVC).
The FCVC is a land trust organization dedicated to maintaining and enhancing the water quality, natural habitat, biological diversity and recreational opportunities of the French Creek Watershed. The organization also manages the French Creek as a designated water trail.
Brenda is passionate about the creek and is dedicated to preserving it and educating people about its diversity and history.
“It’s such a beautiful area to come and paddle because of these conservation areas,” she said of the properties the FCVC holds in trust as part of creek protection efforts. “The backside of recreation is you have conservation efforts to preserve that.”
The FCVC also plans many activities for people to enjoy and to spread awareness about the importance of conservation. It holds creek paddles, birding and property walks, hosts speakers and organizes a massive clean-up day in September that draws hundreds of volunteers.
The FCVC has 3,100 acres under permanent protection. Some of the properties have trails, which are listed on the FCVC website interactive map and, according to Brenda, visitors are encouraged to enjoy leave-no-trace recreation.
The website, frenchcreekconservancy.org, highlights ways people can explore the area such as kayaking or canoeing, fishing, hunting, geocaching and hiking. The FCVC has three launch areas in Cambridge Springs and Meadville with connections to local boating outfitters.
Since being named as River of the Year, the FVCVThis year is a special one for French Creek following its naming as River of the Year. The FCVC will host a summer sojourn on June 11 followed by a celebration at Voodoo Brewing Co. Compound. Winning the River of the Year distinction coincides with FCVC’s 40th anniversary.
“This is a big deal. I was so encouraged by how much local participation we had. We won by a landslide,” Costa said of the competition, which comes with grant money attached to it, has brought attention to the creek and increased membership in FCVC. “People in the area truly treasure French Creek. Winning has brought a tremendous amount of visibility.”
French Creek is a treasure for being more biodiverse than any river its size east of the Mississippi. It also has a famous resident, the Eastern Hellbender salamander, which was named the state amphibian, and is the largest of its species in North America and second largest in the world.
With its history as a focal point during Colonial times well-known, Costa said now efforts are taking place to better understand the Native American story of French Creek and its pre Colonial history.
When looking back at its history, the present and future state of the creek is ever on Costa’s mind. The goal is to enable people to enjoy the same quality creek that our ancestors did, even if that might not be what people first notice.
“We understand how unique and special French Creek is and its importance. It is what is in and under the water, beneath the surface,” Costa said that makes the creek so special “What people do see is the beautiful place it is to recreate.”