The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 5, 2012

Groups merge to improve waterways

JOHNSTOWN — Question: What do trout fishermen, one of the state’s biggest conservation organizations and a national power company have in common?

Answer: A keen interest in the well-being of a few small headwaters streams in Westmoreland County.

That shared sentiment brought the groups together during the past few weeks on yet another stream-improvement project in the Tubmill Creek watershed, completing an estimated 2,000 feet of erosion-control and habitat-improvement work on Hendricks Run.

“It’s probably our fifth or sixth year of working in the stream,” said Tubmill Trout Club President Lindon Gamble, whose group also has spearheaded work on Tubmill Creek. “We’re already planning six or eight more projects in the area and have landowners who are cooperative in letting us do it. Now that this one is done, we have 2,000 feet of stream that never held a fish before, and now will.”

That explains the willingness of both the trout club and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to invest resources into these tributaries. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s angle is less obvious.

Its interest can be traced to Tubmill Creek’s designation as an Exception Value water by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The conservancy has made a commitment to protect and improve the Tubmill Creek watershed through a variety of projects that dovetail nicely with the trout club’s work.

“The conservancy pretty much donates the expertise in procurement of materials and operators and equipment,” Gamble said. “They do this day in and day out, so they know how it’s done. They know how to install all the devices, and they can get the permits. We have common goals for the watershed. They’ve done other things like pasture fencing to keep livestock out of headwaters of a stream. We’ve done a lot of stream enhancement work on small tributaries like Hypocrite Creek, which runs into Hendricks Run. Where you would see rainstorms wash a gully down a dirt road, we build these crossovers to let water go out into a grassy area and deposit sediment in that way. Fish habitat and erosion control are a hand-in-hand deal.”

But such projects are both expensive and labor intensive, which is where GenOn Energy comes in. Although one of the country’s largest producers of electricity, the generating giant has devoted finances and manpower to stream improvements in the shadow of its Conemaugh and Seward plants.

Gamble said the stream improvements simply would not be possible without GenOn’s contribution. GenOn Director of External Affairs Karla Olsen said the benefits are mutual.

“This is a true partnership with the Tubmill Trout Club and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy,” she said. “Working with those groups provides an opportunity to do some good in an area that needed it. The creek needed shoring up, and our employees really enjoy working on things like that. It’s a win-win.”

It is hard to put a specific price tag on such projects, but the cost estimate for the most recent work on Hendricks Run was estimated at between $70,000 and $90,000. It required 50 hemlock logs from 30 to 35 feet in length, 660 tons of limestone boulders, two excavators, a skid loader, a rock truck and a backhoe along with as many as 30 workers on site at a time.

 Most of those workers were GenOn employees. Olsen said the company recognizes an obligation to the communities in which it operates, and appreciates the chance to make a contribution that will extend benefits into the future. But, she said, the company also sees value in employees working together for the public good.

“We look for projects like this,” she said. “It’s really a positive thing overall, not only for our environment and conservation. It’s a really fun thing for employees to get involved in. It’s just a neat opportunity.”

 And, it’s also something with lasting value. Clean water and quality habitat promote larger populations of small animals such as insects, which directly improves fishing.

“We’re trying to better the habitat not only for trout, but for all the aquatic life that is trying to survive in there – all the crayfish and minnies that feed the trout,” Gamble said. “It helps fish hold better and stay in those areas longer. These kind of improvements will give us multitudes more places for people to fish and for us and the Fish Commission to stock fish.”

Certainly, the improvements will enhance the streams for the traditional springtime stockings by the Fish Commission, but they also should significantly increase the holding power for the trout the club itself purchases from a commercial hatchery.

“I think this year we put in about $18,000 worth of trout,” Gamble said. “We do that basically through our club supporters, who donate money for buying trout or become involved in other ways. We have homemade aerators that we throw in the back of pickup trucks and can carry 700-800 trout in each one of them. We have teams that load the fish, and teams that stock them. We can do our 11 miles of stream in about two hours. It happens pretty quickly. And, that’s all for the general public. Anyone can fish for them.”

But, the Tubmill Trout Club isn’t a single-minded operation. It also picks up litter under PennDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway program, and holds spring gobbler and coyote hunts and a large fishing derby for youngsters.

“We have a pretty good time with that,” Gamble said. “We work pretty intensely for a couple of months, then we get into the fundraising season again and it all starts over.”

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