This Cleanup Program crew has worked hard throughout the past year clearing debris from various streams in Pocahontas County through the grant-funded 2016 Severe Storm Stream Cleanup Program. Retired State Police Sergeant John Casto is the crew supervisor. Pictured, front row, l to r: Martin Sharp, Michael Turner, Michael Stewart, Michael Lewis. Back row, l to r: Adam Burgess, Chad Jacobs, Dave Painter, Trey Hines and Jason Bennett. Photos courtesy of John Casto
A TEN-MAN stream cleanup crew worked hard the past year, often facing bees and snakes – and a bear. While the crew was busy working in Watoga State Park, a bear decided to check out one of the backpacks to see “what’s for dinner.”

Jaynell Graham
Editor

A lot of work has been going on in and along streams in Pocahontas County, with some of the results being more visable than others.

One need only take a drive on Rt. 39 from Marlinton to Huntersville to see that the tangled debris – left behind from floods and high water – has been cleared away, creating a nearly park-like appearance on the banks and islands of Knapps Creek.

Retired State Police Sergeant John Casto, of Marlinton, is Pocahontas County’s stream cleanup supervisor for the 2016 Severe Storm Cleanup Program.

The program provides temporary employment – one year – for local unemployed workers.

Casto said the cleanup program has entered its second year.

The initial grant from the Department of Labor expired July 31, 2017, but was extended an additional 11 months to continue the work.

Human Resource Development Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Mor- gantown, oversees funding to 18 counties which were designated as Flood Disaster counties in 2016. Approximately 250 workers were hired under the guidelines of the Department of Labor and West Virginia Worforce offices.

The second grant period, which began August 1, 2017, will extend the program through June 30, 2018.

The program grant covers wages for a 10-man crew in Pocahontas County, in addition to office and equipment rental and vehicles used to transport the workers and their equipment.

Casto said the crew is comprised of local unemployed workers who have been unemployed for 27 weeks, presently on unemployment or whose unemployment benefits have expired.

In addition to offering them a year’s employment, they learn various job skills associated with this type of work that may assist them in finding regular employment.

“All of the workers are local residents who met the established guidelines,” Casto said. “And the majority of the equipment and supplies were purchased through local businesses in the county.”

Stream cleanup in the past has involved the use of heavy equipment, but not so for this job.

“All of the work has been done with chainsaws, hand tools, clippers and weed eaters,” Casto added. “The guys had to deal with snakes and bees all summer.”

Snakes and bees – and a bear at Watoga State Park breaking into a backpack, looking for lunch.

The program has several goals – to cleanup and remove exisiting debris and to prevent future debris from being trapped and adding to the problem.

THE SEASON ISN’T the only change that can be seen in these before and after photos of Knapps Creek. The stream cleanup crew has been hard at work and, thanks to the extension of Severe Storm Cleanup grant, more cleanup will be done in the coming months.

Casto addressed the process.

“The debris, whenever possible, is burned on site as the majority of it is not accessible by machinery for removal. The debris that is not suitable for burning – such as trash – is picked up and delivered to the local landfill. Hopefully, by the elimination of the debris, whether it be downed trees, logs, leaves and other natural obstructions, the reoccurance of this problem downstream by its migration in high water will be eliminated and, hopefully, lessen the backup of water and flooding in the future.

There is also the asthetic value.

“Pocahontas County is a beautiful county, and by removing the unsightly flood debris and trash from its streambanks, it will continue to be a place that people are proud to be associated with and people outside the county want to come and enjoy.

“The work began in November 2016 at Watoga State Park. Since that time the crew worked through the winter months, making its way to the northern part of the county, cleaning numerous streams as they progressed toward Durbin. They then back-tracked to other streams which were passed by due to high water and accessibility at the time they were initally considered.”

Casto said Knapps Creek was a major undertaking, and the crew has worked there for several months. The work is ongoing.
Another major effort was required to clean up Stony Creek through the area of Campbelltown. The work was done during the winter months, and has been completed.

“I really can’t stress enough the dedication of my workers,” Casto said. “Who else would wade waist high water to work in poison ivy, poison oak and multi-floral rose patches all day for $11 an hour? And the best part is, they come back the next day and do it again.”