Franklin: Work on Bear Creek will pay off for trout anglers
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Considering my lifelong love of trout fishing and my passion for conservation, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the second love of many thoughtful trout anglers: Trout Unlimited.
So, about five years ago I began considering potential volunteer opportunities with the very successful Southern Chapter, which includes Dane and Jefferson counties.
Then came the move from the Madison area to Beaver Dam, the result of a can’t-pass-up job opportunity for my wife and a can’t-pass-up educational opportunity for my teen-age daughter.
Immediately upon learning the news, I frantically tore open a copy of the DNR Trout Regulation pamphlet and quickly realized why I had never traveled to Dodge County to fish for trout. You would think with thousands of miles of trout water in this state, geologic history would have sprinkled them around a little more evenly.
Perhaps it was a trade-off for such natural gems as Horicon Marsh, but regardless of the reason, I was going to be living on one of those pages in the trout regs where the printer’s green, yellow, blue and red inks were largely spared.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered a group of fellow sufferers who several years earlier had revived the Aldo Leopold Chapter of TU (ALCTU).
When asked to join their cause, and their board of directors, I couldn’t possibly say no.
A year later, when asked to serve as vice president, I again couldn’t say no.
The chapter had been having success with work days on Columbia County streams (the chapter includes Dodge, Columbia and Sauk counties), a fly-tying class, stream monitoring and involvement with a small restoration project in Lodi. But they never had the opportunity to take on a full-scale stream restoration project … until Ron Fargen called.
Fargen, whose family owns a farm north of Bear Valley in western Sauk County, remembered growing up with Bear Creek running through his family property. As the decades passed, he began returning to his home waters to chase trout, yet often found himself plying streams further west of Bear Valley.
Years of erosion had taken their toll on Bear Creek and he didn’t have to travel far west to find streams with bountiful natural trout populations.
He began to wonder why Bear Creek couldn’t be restored – and began asking around for help. His search led him to Eric Resultan of the Aldo Leopold Chapter, and the Bear Creek Habitat Improvement Project was born.
Before long, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) worked with the family to secure a public fishing easement.
So, we had a willing landowner with two miles of stream, a perpetual DNR easement, a passionate group of chapter leaders and a very modest bank account. Unfortunately, what we didn’t have was a clue, and we didn’t have anywhere near the $130,000 needed just to fund the first half of the project.
But as we quickly discovered, there is no shortage of amazingly diverse and passionate professionals eager to help us along. As the project developed from a dream to a distinct possibility, guidance and support started arriving from county, state and federal agencies, as well as TU professionals and volunteers from other chapters. The project began to come together, and started gathering momentum.
Getting the ball rolling
First came the permits with great assistance from the DNR Fisheries office in Dodgeville.
Then came a design plan generously created by Brent Bergstrom at the Sauk County Land Conservation Department.
The stream would be deepened and narrowed, and structures would be strategically added to create more riffle/pool habitat. Banks would be repaired, stabilized and tapered to reduce erosion and siltation.
The project would even include features to improve habitat for non-game species such as turtles and birds.
Money was the missing link, however, and so began our self-education in grant writing, undertaken largely by chapter president Mike Barniskis and chapter secretary Tom Gawle. Whether public or private, no potential donor organization was overlooked.
The chapter’s bank account grew by $2,000 thanks to the Badger Fly Fishers. Then the Dutton Foundation kicked in $2,000. The Wisconsin Council of Trout Unlimited granted us $4,000 from its “Friends of Wisconsin Trout” program.
Before long, TU’s national headquarters provided $8,000 from its Embrace-A-Stream fund. The Sauk County Land Conservation Department provided $10,000. The DNR kicked in $16,000 from the Trout Stamp fund. The USDA’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) awarded us a $48,000 grant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently awarded $40,000 from its National Fish Habitat Action Plan.
With that, the first phase was funded – heavy equipment on the ground, dump trucks hauling rock, dozers moving dirt, excavators creating habitat.
And so it began …
An experienced stream restoration crew from Holtz Lime & Gravel of Loganville has already begun what it does best. When the dust settles, a thing of beauty will appear in the form of a meandering, silt-free stretch of premier trout habitat amid a scenic Driftless Area valley.
Looking at crystal clear water flowing along the graded, boulder-covered banks, the dark, deep trout “hides” and the various plunge pools, I recently marvelled over the progress.
Big workday turnout
On a recent Saturday, about 35 TU members from various chapters in Wisconsin and Illinois arrived at the project site to lend their assistance in the form of sweat.
With help from the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter, they assembled about 50 LUNKER structures, which will be installed into the stream banks to improve habitat for trout and other creatures.
The second phase is planned for next year.
I’m confident trout will immediately occupy the restored water, and once word gets out to the trout about the comfy new “digs” on this stretch of water, trout numbers should quickly climb.
And as one of the first streams available to anglers heading west into the Driftless Area, it will surely become a favorite.
That is the hope of the ALCTU, anyway.
Contact Todd Franklin, a freelanceTODD FRANKLIN|For the State Journal
outdoors writer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-516-3647.