Matt Kofroth, watershed coordinator for the Lancaster County Conservation District, surveys recent improvements to gravel Hess Road in Eden Township to protect water quality.

Dirt, gravel and little-used paved roads have been a key focus in the effort to protect and clean up Lancaster County’s streams.

Since 1998, when concern from trout anglers spurred a state-funded program, drainage has improved on about 90 percent of the county’s 82 miles of unpaved roads, keeping stormwater from flushing harmful dirt and other pollutants into adjacent streams.

Also, 10 miles of the county’s lowest-volume paved roads — the category includes 23 miles of roads that see fewer than 500 vehicles a day — have been fitted with rain gardens, pervious pavement and other measures to control stormwater runoff.

In all, more than $500,000 has been funneled to nearly 150 projects in Lancaster County under the Pennsylvania Dirt, Gravel and Low-Volume Road Program.

Unpaved Roads

The work is bringing results. Just ask Terry Frantz, who has lived on the crushed-gravel Hess Road in rural Eden Township for 43 years.

There have been times after rainstorms when an unnamed tributary of Bowery Run has completely flooded a bridge and washed out the road.

That’s because of a bottleneck of water caused by a too-small and poorly positioned culvert.

At times, the bottleneck prevented Frantz from getting home, and another slug of sediment was sent on its way to the Chesapeake Bay.

With an $18,000 grant from the gravel roads program, the township used its own crews to install a larger culvert at a more effective angle.

“I’m real pleased the township has done this,” Frantz said on a recent afternoon just after a horse-drawn buggy clip-clopped across the bridge.

Too many dirt roads were designed to channel water straight into streams as quickly as possible, often through roadside ditches.

The new approach is to steer sheets of water off the road before the flow can erode the surface, pick up pollutants and drain into a stream.

Much of the improvement work involves regrading roads to create a crown and other devices that shunt water in waves onto adjacent grassy areas that can filter pollutants.

The projects are not a handout. Before a township can qualify for a grant, someone has to attend two days of training to get certified in the best ways to reshape roads for environmental benefits.

Matt Kofroth, the watershed coordinator for the Lancaster County Conservation District, which hands out grants locally, said the program achieves compatible goals.

“The municipalities see the funding as road maintenance funds on roads that do not get a lot of traffic,” Kofroth said. “We see it as water quality improvements on roads that are typically adjacent to fragile stream environments.

“Both views work for various reasons, and everyone wins in the end.”

Paved Roads

In a much different setting, among homes in the Fairfield Acres neighborhood in the extreme eastern part of Lancaster city, Kofroth is inspecting a series of water-capturing devices on Shelley Road.

The paved, suburban-style street, which is in the Bridgeport area, qualifies as a low-volume road.

Water flowing downhill after heavy rains used to gush into an unnamed tributary of the Conestoga River.

Now, as part of an $80,000 project, water first passes through a rain garden built on the side of the street. Excess runoff that makes it through the rain garden flows over pervious pavers and is channeled under the street to a series of miniwetlands known as a regenerative stormwater conveyance.

The city has funded a number of projects like this through the program as part of its award-winning “green infrastructure” effort to reduce stormwater pollution into the Conestoga River.

Trout Concerns

Sediment is the No. 1 pollutant entering Pennsylvania streams.

More than 20 years ago, members of Trout Unlimited decided to do something about the number of dirt roads in state forests and other places alongside streams that were polluting wild trout and high-quality streams.

Their pestering resulted in the state creating the Pennsylvania Dirt and Gravel Roads Maintenance Program. Until 2014, the program was funded at $5 million a year by money from vehicle registrations.

That year, state funding from the registration-fee revenue was dramatically increased to $35 million annually with the addition of low-volume roads around the state.

Initial targets were some 900 roads — in protected watersheds statewide — that members of Trout Unlimited found driving around on their own dime and time.

In Lancaster County, early efforts involved fixing up dirt thoroughfares such as Segloch Road — which runs alongside one of Lancaster County’s wild trout streams in Clay Township — and Pumping Station Road, which follows upper Hammer Creek in Elizabeth Township.

Since then, in 2000 and 2008, county conservation districts did additional surveys of roads, increasing the pool to 16,500 pollution sites statewide.

Continue Reading: Why Are There Still Dirt Roads?


What To Read Next