A blue heron is flying over Dunkard Creek at a site next to the Mason-Dixon Historical Park, on a foggy cold September morning.
It’s a sight straight out of a painting.
Water is flowing at the creek, and while it’s difficult to see any fish swimming around at the moment, they are there, according to Division of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist Frank Jernejcic.
"I fished the stream in May, and probably caught a dozen smallmouth bass, in a three mile stretch; they were mainly 12 to 16 inch fish that was the best fishing I have had in 20, 25 years of fishing this stream. So that was a pleasant surprise," he said.
Jernejcic and other DNR personnel were at Dunkard about two months ago, to conduct a fish sampling survey of the aquatic life.
It was the first time since 2010 that the DNR did such work at Dunkard Creek, because the water level was too high for testing.
Jernejcic says the results look promising for the future of this battered watershed.
"We were sampling with parallel wires electricity where we shocked the fish, this is a common fishery technique. We essentially found about a 95 percent or greater recovery of the fish population," he said.
"We sampled 25 to 30 species of fish, probably the most notable was that the smallmouth bass had returned to the stream, the larger fish have returned, and they are reproducing, and that is really critical."
To say this watershed has been battered would be an understatement. In September 2009, thousands of fish, salamanders, and the creek’s mussel population were wiped out when golden algae bloomed in the stream, and killed the fish.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it was the first documented case of a Prymnesium Parvum, golden algae bloom, in the Mid-Atlantic States. But then another fish kill happened—this one in July of 2010, and thought to have been caused by a chemical entering the stream.
Betty Wiley is the president of the Dunkard Creek Watershed Association.
"Dunkard Creek is like all streams, a very vulnerable part of our lives and our watershed. It just runs through and anybody can throw anything in it. It’s something that’s very important to us; people don’t even realize how important it is until something horrible happens," she said.
"Through a disaster like this, people do, your attention is drawn to it, and it creates a lot of awareness. It is recovering now, very well. It will decades for it to be perfect."
But the history of this creek didn’t start with these fish kills. It plays an important part in the region’s history. In the mid 1700s, two men, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, crossed this area as they were doing surveying.
These two give the “Mason-Dixon Line” its name. The creek gets its name from a group of people who lived in the area.
"The creek was name for a German religious sect, called the Dunkards, who dunked people when they baptized them," said Betty Wiley.
"When Mason and Dixon were here, they stopped here on the property very near Dunkard Creek, they knew then that the creek had a history, and by the time they stopped, there were people living in the Mount Morris area. Yeah, it’s got a rich history."
The 2009 fish kill brought a lot of attention and publicity to this tiny stream that meanders along the West Virginia, Pennsylvania border.
A traveling art exhibit called “Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek” was made, which has traveled to Morgantown, Pittsburgh, Charleston and several other cities in the region.
The exhibit contains paintings and other artwork, representing all the aquatic life species killed in 2009.
A play called “Dead Fish Rising,” about the fish kill, was produced and performed in nearby Mount Morris Pennsylvania, last year.
"It’s very gratifying and positive view for the future, to know that people have cared about this and put their talents to drawing attention to it. It was amazing, what the end result was," said Betty Wiley.
While plays are being performed, and art exhibits are touring, the water at Dunkard Creek is still flowing.
Slowly, the creek is restoring itself. Frank Jernejcic says while 95 percent of species are back, some aren’t, including the creek’s mussel population.
The DNR is doing some work to try and help the restoration.
"We are attempting to restore some of those species by inoculating their fish hosts, with the young mussels; these are called glochidia, which we raise in the hatchery, and then we put them in contact with the fish, they attach to the fish’s gills, and then we stock the fish. We’ve done that with one species of mussel, and two species of fish, a blue gill and a drum," Frank Jernejcic said.
"The glochidia will drop off the fish, when they grow to a certain size, and hopefully we will start a population of at least one species of mussels for the future."
And to Betty Wiley, protecting Dunkard Creek will always be a labor of love.
"It’s not nearly as nice as it was when I was kid, but it is still full of living things, and luckily we have some state agencies that are working on making it even better," Wiley said.
"To me, Dunkard Creek runs through my bloodstream sort of, I grew up right beside the creek, and I can only say that I love it, and it is very important to a lot of people, especially to me."
Environmental agencies concluded mining discharges in the area helped create the conditions for the algae bloom in 2009.
Consol Energy is building a water treatment plant in the area, to treat its mining discharges, using a specific method called reverse osmosis. It’s scheduled to start operating next year.