Each summer, for the last 30 years, volunteers from TU’s Northern Virginia chapter have trekked up to Pennsylvania’s “apple capital” to join Adams County TU and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Conewago Creek to help improve trout habitat there. The Conewago forms on the eastern slope of South Mountain and holds native brook trout in its headwaters and stocked rainbows and browns at lower elevations. Year after year, the chapters and commission have worked on a privately-owned stretch of the stocked portion of the creek. Three decades of work have truly paid off: trout and anglers both now luxuriate in a 1.1 mile section of a special regulation stream once way overexposed to sun, sediment and cattle.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping chapter volunteers install some habitat structures in this section of the Conewago, which they call the “fly project.” We installed four log vanes to prevent bank erosion and scour out some pool habitat under the direction of the commission’s Karl Lutz, the author of Pa.’s superb guide on habitat improvement for trout. But what made the day particularly special was the dedication of a memorial bench honoring several TU members who had recently passed away and had been an integral part of the Conewago’s restoration. Kind words were shared by the chapter presidents and a cake marking the 30-year partnership was enjoyed by all who attended.
The Conewago has nowhere near the angling cachet of the nearby Yellow Breeches, but everything about that stream has the mark of a good TU conservation project. I was most struck by the community aspect of it—from the bond shared between the two chapters to the unique arrangement they have with a nearby bowling alley, which allows anglers to park in their lot in exchange for volunteer trash patrol. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Adams County TU has a particularly strong bond with the fly project’s landowner, who has farmed the property long before TU started working on the creek. Now retired, he leases the land to younger farmers but remains closely involved in the creek’s restoration despite the fact that he doesn’t fish. He even chose the site for the TU members’ memorial bench, located prominently between two mature oaks and just a stone’s throw from a pavilion the chapters built for his family.
This got me thinking: what happens if and when this land changes hands? Would fishing access disappear? Would the streamside forest be cleared for development? What would happen to the bench?
Conservation easements and fishing access easements—voluntarily conveyed by landowners—are two solutions that could prevent the land from being posted or developed. But these solutions depend on strong federal and state incentives to make them attractive to landowners.
Do you care about a piece of land, like this one in Pa. and want to help protect it? Tell your legislators you support tax incentives for private land conservation and Farm Bill programs like VPA-HIP that reward landowners for making their lands available to the public for fishing and hunting. You can also get to know your local land trust and find ways support the work it does to protect the places you fish.
When the time is right, I’m hoping that programs and partnerships like these can be brought to bear on the Conewago, enabling the next generation of angler-conservationists to fish and improve trout habitat there. Maybe they will even get to enjoy a piece of 60th anniversary cake while sitting on TU’s bench.
-Kevin Anderson, Chesapeake Bay Land Protection Coordinator