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2012 Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Award Winners

Appalachian Region Award Winner
Lower Rock Creek Watershed Restoration Project,
McCreary County, Kentucky

For carrying out a decade-long project with multiple locations and phases, and returning the land to a use beneficial to humans and wildlife, the 2012 Appalachian Regional Award was presented to the Lower Rock Creek Watershed Restoration Project, McCreary County, Kentucky.

Map of the project area

Map of the project area

The project covered four locations in Kentucky and Tennessee. Lower Rock Creek stretches from Kentucky's Pickett State Park, through the Daniel Boone National Forest, and into the Big South National Recreation area. The watershed is a prime location for fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, and camping and hosts thousands of people each year. Rock Creek is also home to more than 40 portals leading to hundred year old underground mines, and eight mine refuse dumps. Those killed aquatic life and limited the fresh water available for land animals. Rock Creek was the largest contributor of acid mine drainage to the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River until recently.

The McCreary project required a ten year commitment among four state agencies, eight Federal agencies, and a non-profit outdoor advocacy group to clean up the damage from acid mine drainage that rendered several miles of Lower Rock Creek sterile of aquatic life.

Photo of a limestone channel

An example of the limestone channels created to help reduce PH levels in the watershed.

At the mouth of White Oak Creek, project managers stopped dosing the water with crushed limestone sand each month. To replace it, they installed six miles of open limestone rock channels, which reduce the stream’s PH and provides a long term source of alkalinity.

At the upper Paint Cliff site, managers created a series of ponds to treat water seeping from a collapsed mine entry on the hillside, which filled the site with acidic waste and metal. The pond system uses organic material to strip oxygen from the liquid, which then promotes sulfide production, which in turn removes metals and increases the water’s alkalinity.

Photo of workers, stream bank where acidic waste was removed

A stream bank where workers removed acidic waste that leached into the water.

On lower Rock Creek, the team removed 20-thousand cubic yards of acidic waste from the stream bank, then planted trees and fast growing grasses. In other areas, they graded over contaminated land, treated it with lime, and introduced new vegetation.

Fisherman holds a small trout at Lower Rock Creek

Fish and other wildlife have returned to the Lower Rock Creek Watershed.

The results speak for themselves. At Robert’s Hollow, average PH rose from 3.1 to 5.8 after the project was completed. The change is mirrored at White Oak Creek, Paint Cliff and Lower Rock Creek. Through the entire system, the project reduced the monthly acidic load in the water by 99%. As a result, fish and other aquatic life and land-borne animals have returned to lower Rock Creek and White Oak Creek, and so have land borne animals.

Link to Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Department for Natural Resources, Division of Abandoned Mine Lands Website at

Page Last Modified/Reviewed: 6/3/14

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