Allegheny Wins French Creek Watershed Cleanup Prize

Allegheny College is being recognized once again for its efforts to clean up the French Creek Watershed.

Allegheny students were among the more than 700 people who banded together to pull 26,305 pounds of trash — more than 13 tons — from the French Creek watershed on Sept. 10. For the second year in a row, Allegheny won the $1,000 prize granted to an educational institution with the most participants in the annual French Creek Watershed Cleanup.

One hundred thirty-four Allegheny students, faculty and staff participated in the one-day event organized by the French Creek Valley Conservancy, said Wendy Kedzierski, director of Creek Connections, a watershed educational outreach program of Allegheny. Among the groups that participated were several fraternities, the Outing Club, the women’s rugby team, the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and Students for Environmental Action. Some students canoed French Creek, picking up floating debris as they went.

Many students come to Allegheny with a history of civic engagement and want to participate, Kedzierski said. Others quickly learn about the value and biodiversity of French Creek and its tributaries that make up the watershed and want to volunteer in a meaningful way.

“They enjoy getting out there and do real work that has a real result,” Kedzierski said. “They have that sense of accomplishment, of really doing something.”

The amount of trash collected this year was down from previous years — and that, Kedzierski said, is a good thing. Event participants have cleaned up many historical dumping sites over the years, she said, and waste-reduction efforts are working.

“The whole event raises awareness of the value of French Creek, so people are less likely to dump” garbage and unwanted items into the watershed, Kedzierski said.

Levi Lundell, a senior environmental science major and project assistant for Creek Connections, has been participating in the cleanup since his first year at Allegheny. Without the creek, Creek Connections wouldn’t be able to provide outreach to more than 50 area schools, Lundell said, and those students wouldn’t get the pride of helping maintain a “national treasure.”

“It’s really inspiring to them,” said Lundell, who also serves as director of sustainability and environmental affairs for Allegheny Student Government. “It’s not just them being taught a lesson, but seeing what the impact is.”

The cleanup unites students, faculty, staff and people from throughout the region around a common cause, he said.

“It’s an incredible experience to have everyone pull together” around an environmental issue, Lundell said, adding that the cleanup could inspire other efforts and events.

The $1,000 prize, sponsored by the Peter A. Yeager Memorial Foundation, will go toward Allegheny’s science program. It’s likely the money will be used to purchase camping tents for the Outing Club and for science classes to use during overnight camping trips for research and learning, Kedzierski said.