How 40 acres of abandoned mine lands in Snow Shoe Township became a wildlife habitat

Elk, deer and more to enjoy reclaimed game lands

Volunteers and representatives from multiple organizations gathered to unveil the Contrary run site reclamation and AMD treatment system.
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Volunteers and representatives from multiple organizations gathered to unveil the Contrary run site reclamation and AMD treatment system.

Once 40 acres of abandoned mine lands, State Game Lands 100 is now teeming with elk, white-tailed deer, snakes, turkeys and other animals who have made the grasslands their home thanks to the Contrary Run Project.

Funded by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Watershed Protection Program and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the project’s efforts have made State Game Lands 100 safer for all visitors — plant, animal and humans alike.

“We know people want to get out into these places and recreate, so we want to make that as safe as possible,” said Megan Lehman, DEP environmental community relations specialist, explaining that the primary goal of the Contrary Run Project was to treat acid mine drainage from two underground mine sources.

Several youngsters look at the water flowing from a limestone channel to a settling basin during a ceremony for the Contrary Run reclamation and AMD Treatment system on State Game Lands 100 on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Abby Drey

Colleen Shannon, land management supervisor, took Lehman on a tour weeks before where they saw elk, snakes, turkeys and songbirds. While Thursday’s group did not see any wildlife, Shannon told attendees she spotted a bear, elk, deer and turkey in the area earlier in the day.

Hazards in Contrary Run were created by abandoned pits, highwall and spoil areas, the remnants of Pennsylvania’s mining history. Mine pits are sometimes filled in with water once they are no longer in use, Lehman said, but while they may look like ponds, the former pits are filled with toxins and are not safe for visitors to use for recreational purposes. The acreage that was reclaimed at Contrary Run was the site of a former clay mine.

The project’s completion comes with improved water quality for Contrary Run from a tributary that reroutes acid mine drainage through a limestone filter, which passively treats water discharge.

“What we mean by passively is (that) it isn’t something you turn around and add lime everyday,” Steve Fisanick, mining engineer consultant, said. “It’s self sustaining.”

Water quality has already improved as a result of this mechanism, he said.

Lehman compared finding funding to piecing together a puzzle. She said this site is one of the areas the DEP is most proud of, saying that this area’s number of construction projects serve as an example of what can be done across the commonwealth with the proper finances.

The Pennsylvania DEP’s Growing Greener Grant provided $1,003,139 for the project, and $177,761 came from the Game Commission.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Northcentral Region land management supervisor Colleen Shannon talks about a section of land that was mined for coal and now has been reclaimed on the State Game Lands 100 on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Abby Drey

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a plan called Restore Pennsylvania, which aims to increase the number of land and water reclamation sites across the state. The Contrary Run Project was just 40 out of nearly 200,000 acres of abandoned mine land across 43 counties in the state, according to the proposal.

Dan Vilello, PA DEP local government liaison, explained a proposed severance task outlined in Wolf’s plan, saying the tax would be placed on the natural gas industry and will serve as a funding source to help restore local projects like Contrary Run, but will also be used in cities and towns throughout the state.

“They’re all small projects, but they all add up,” Vilello said. “My ask is that as you’re talking to people, let’s think about a common sense severance tax that could provide income to these types of projects.”

The Contrary Run Project was one in a series of reclamation projects in the game lands. In an area adjacent to Contrary Run, work is being done in order to re-mine valuable resources that are still present in the ground, Shannon said.

“Maybe (miners) came in somewhere, and they took the easy coal years ago, but there’s more coal underneath,” Shannon said.

Since the Game Commission is independently funded, some oil, gas and mineral rights are owned on its land,which means it owns the royalties. These assets are used to help fund its agency program that may not qualify for grants.

Assisting with the re-mining project near Contrary Run, Chris Hartman, whose family-run company Hartman Mining works that land, anticipates the project will be completed within the next year and a half.

Shannon said she has worked on other projects with mining companies, as well, and while they are concerned with making a profit, the companies also care about the environment.

“We just work with a lot of good people out here,” Shannon said. “There’s a lot more good happening in partnerships than there are problems to accomplish this kind of benefit to people and wildlife.”