The residents here call it “Dry Run.”
On a map, it’s an unnamed tributary, a sliver of rocky creek bed running through the hillside of western Bellefonte. On most days, it earns its name. Especially on ones like this, a pristine Tuesday in November.
The enforcement officer for the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority grimaces under a cotton-down beard as he and another heave a rusted oil drum onto a truck. Wisps of fluffy clouds streak overhead. They contrast with the mud on his boots.
“I called ahead for this,” he said, grinning, eyes matching the sky. “If you had to pay for today, you couldn’t afford it.”
But not even a month ago, you could fill this bed with soot, silt and tears. Flooding, the worst in more than a decade, washed out its crevices, sending a stream of detritus plummeting downhill.
The rains poured and poured. The clouds in the sky were lumps of coal. In those early hours, more than 100 Milesburg and Howard area residents were evacuated, and the county’s commissioners declared a state of emergency.
Picking up the pieces has been slower than most have hoped. But on Tuesday, a group of seven volunteers pitched in to help. Sweeping “Dry Run,” of its debris — including scraps of metal, corroded sheets and a pair of crumpled wheelbarrows — the team traipsed among the broken tree branches and muddy creek beds, their caravan of pickups hauling closely behind.
In total, the group, a coalition of ClearWater Conservancy, the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Water Resources Monitoring Project and CCRRA, cleaned up 1,000 pounds of metal and more than 1,500 pounds of municipal solid waste. Rod Fye, CCRRA’s enforcement officer, said it took five truckloads.
And that metal won’t go to the landfill. Instead, it will be recycled.
“We’re doing good work for the environment,” Fye said. “Everything we clean up today is not going to end up at the Bald Eagle State Park in the water when the spring comes, and that’s one of the reasons I thought we wanted to get it while it’s contained here.”
According to the National Flood Insurance Program, the estimated losses from flooding for an 1,000-square-foot home can reach up to $33,700. That’s at 2 feet of water.
Bill Lehr, 65, had nearly twice that in his basement. The water seemed to come from everywhere, he recalled.
“It came out my steps, then it made a U-turn and went into my basement along with all the sediment,” he said. “It was gravity and a boatload of water.”
Upstream, Tom Schivery walked along the run where weeks earlier it had bled over into his garage. The now silent stream had left punctures in its siding. On Tuesday, sunlight, not water, poured through them.
Schivery, 72, has lived here since 1969. He lost a car, three motorcycles and his garage door in the flood. In their place laid a pile of stone and splinter.
“The trees came down, then the rocks came down,” he said. “We’ve been working on it ever since the flooding. It pushed the back of my building in, that’s how much water was coming down there.”
A 275-gallon fuel tank of his was also swept downstream. The group hopped down and lugged it up the bank. Then they tossed it into the back of a truck, wiped their gloves on their jeans and moved on. Easy.
No machinery needed. Just elbow grease.
Jim Lanning, a board member at the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, bent down and attempted to lift the oil drum, about 55 gallons worth, by himself. “Don’t ask for help, Jim!” joked Fye, as he came over to help.
“I’m a little independent!” replied Lanning. Together the pair lifted the drum into the truck bed. They laughed afterward.
As the sun swept over the run, Lanning pushed up his cap and brushed sweat from his brow.
“Neighbors help neighbors,” Lanning said. “We are passionate conservationists and we knew this stream needed it. This is our skill set that we can bring folks together and get things done in an expeditious way.
“It’s a win-win.”