Along its 47-mile journey to the Allegheny River, Oil Creek winds through the heart of Pennsylvania’s historic Oil Region, birthplace of the commercial oil industry. Here, the world’s first large-scale petroleum production operations began shortly after the discovery of vast crude oil reserves along the Oil Creek Valley in the mid-19th century.
More than 160 years later, the area has a new claim to fame: as a premier destination for outdoor recreation. And this summer, thanks to Crawford County, Venango County, the Titusville Redevelopment Authority, and the Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership, Oil Creek becomes the state’s newest designated water trail. Nestled in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania, the Oil Creek Water Trail flows through lush wooded landscapes and vibrant small towns, connecting Titusville to Oil City by way of Oil Creek State Park. As an official water trail, Oil Creek offers paddlers a chance to explore the region’s historic legacy safely and conveniently, supporting small businesses and boosting local economies along the way.
“The Commissioners of Crawford County are very pleased to have Oil Creek designated as a Water Trail,” said Crawford County Commissioner Francis Weiderspahn. “Oil Creek is a treasure that we are thrilled to share with others and have them experience its’ natural beauty and surroundings. We are excited that with this designation it will bring tourists and outdoor enthusiasts to our county and region and with it an economic benefit to our businesses and residents.”
The water trail designation process began in 2015, when Titusville Redevelopment Authority, on behalf of the City of Titusville, completed a feasibility study establishing that the creek had enough water flow to make it viable for recreation nearly year-round. The research also identified public access points that paddlers could use to get on the water, and highlighted connections between the creek, its namesake state park, and the local communities that make visiting the water trail a uniquely attractive experience.
The next step toward designation as an official water trail was to submit an application to the Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership.
“In moving this water trail project forward we are able to further stimulate local economies through additional opportunities to connect with people from near and far,” said Venango County Commissioner Chairman Timothy S. Brooks. “We welcome tourists to visit Venango County and the region to experience the unique character and charm of all the communities along the Oil Creek Water Trail.”
A key requirement for the official water trail designation is an organization or entity that can manage the water trail, which the feasibility study process was unable to identify. With the portion of Oil Creek that was studied covering more than 30 miles across multiple municipalities and two counties, there was no existing organization well-suited to the task.
Unwilling to give up on the project, Brooks challenged the feasibility study steering committee to find a solution. Three groups that worked on the steering committee for the feasibility study (Titusville Redevelopment Authority, Crawford County Planning Commission, and Venango County Planning Commission) proposed a partnership that would serve as the applicant for the water trail application, and as water trail manager. Officials at each of the three partner organizations approved the creation of the Oil Creek Water Trail Association in 2016, paving the way for applying to the Pennsylvania Water Trail Program in the spring of 2017.
“Working in unison, the Oil Creek Water Trail Association members have been and will continue to be key to the support of Oil Creek as a Pennsylvania Water Trail,” said Deborah Eckelberger, deputy director of Titusville Redevelopment Authority. “This newly formed partnership brings together multiple county organizations and community/economic development. Visitors to the region know no geographic boundaries; we are pleased that this association has put aside traditional boundaries and are working together for the betterment of the region as a whole.”
The Oil Creek Water Trail Association designed and developed a map of the water trail that includes public river access, hazardous dams, camp sites, land trail connections, and other information to help visitors plan their trips. Thanks to financial support from Venango County and Crawford County, these maps will now be available for free to anyone interested in using the newly designated water trail. Maps will be available online at www.oilcreekwatertrail.org and in print for the 2018 paddling season.
Experienced paddlers and novices are encouraged to join the Friends of Oil Creek Water Trail, a volunteer group that will work with the water trail manager to fulfill the Pennsylvania water trails principles. The group plans to hold organized group floats, cleanup days, and educational programs. For more information or to join the Friends’ group, contact Titusville Redevelopment Authority at 814-827-3368.
Pennsylvania Water Trails Partnership began in 2008 as a project of the National Parks Service, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Its goal is to enhance recreation and stewardship on Pennsylvania waterways by supporting water trail managers with technical assistance, networking events, funding opportunities, and the development of a statewide system of recreational water trails. The addition of Oil Creek into this network of more than 2,000 miles of waterways makes the Pennsylvania Water Trail Program stronger and more representative of the wealth of recreational opportunities available across the state.
To find more information about the program, visit PEC’s Pennsylvania Water Trails Program webpage.