[“Waterdog” is a three-part narrative about a stream remediation project I initiated several years ago as a volunteer, along with the help of land owners, Trout Unlimited (TU) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Now, at this coldest time of year, I find it pleasant to reflect on this fair-weather project undertaken, not to further the fishing interests of anyone involved, but to assist wild brook trout and other wildlife in a headwater area near my home. The project was both challenging and spiritually rewarding. I hope you’ll enjoy this recollection.]
Early June. After weeks of rain, the sun finally dominated the sky. It was time to work on the headwater stream. My long hours of planning and preparation for the job, leading the efforts of my TU chapter, had come to this– a Friday morning with a purpose.
My daughter Alyssa was assigned the job of documenting the event with a simple camera. A friend donated morning time and the use of his tractor, the only form of heavy machinery used for the project. He would chain the locust logs that were laid out in the staging area and drag them to the stream sites. Other than that, most of the work was done exclusively by hand, thus minimizing our negative impact on the native trout environment.
Scott C. was the fisheries biologist at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) whose experience with stream remediation projects was enlisted for the site designs. Another dozen volunteers from Trout Unlimited comprised the labor force for Tributary 2 (T-2), a small native brook trout water flowing northward into New York State from the nearby fields and woods of Pennsylvania.
When Scott and his assistants started preparatory work at site number 1, the station farthest downstream on the project, I took a smaller crew to site number 4 at the upper end. There were fallen hemlocks in this area of the project and we had already cut several of the trees into logs that needed to be carried off.
Michael P. had been put in charge of cutting and hauling the logs for this project. Most of the wood was locust (hard and rot-resistant) measured into lengths of eight, 10, and 12 feet, with an average diameter of a foot. Mike had cut the logs on a Naples, N.Y. farm, about an hour away, and had hauled them to our place along this rivertop in the Genesee watershed. The logs at site 4 were exceptional, being hemlock wood that saved us from having to haul the locusts upstream into the forest.
Mike and I had prepared a 24-foot log that needed to be pulled downstream from site 4 to site 1 where Scott’s crew was at work. The big log would become a cross-channel piece embedded at an upstream angle. Its open end would abut the ends of two revetment logs along the eastern bank, and each log would be pinned securely with lengths of rebar.
It was reasonable to think that a 24-foot hemlock (one to two-feet thick?) would be easy enough to manage for a group of six workers, including young Alyssa. After all, we were using several log-carriers as tools, and the distance was only three hundred level feet, along with a few stream crossings. But five men and one woman had their hands full and their shoulders slumped with this carry. They felt the ground grow closer to their backs, and sensed the path growing narrower by the minute!
The long hemlock was eventually installed at a 30-degree angle with its western end embedded one-foot higher than the eastern end. Fiber mat was laid down on its upstream side. Rocks were piled up for a backfill, and stakes of live willow-shrubs were planted at the log ends to encourage new growth.
The stream began to flow across the transverse log, pulling itself toward the east bank where revetment logs would be undercut and give new shelter for the native brook trout. These fish, here and elsewhere throughout their original range in eastern North America, are threatened by dangers such as global warming and habitat destruction, so our job, as I saw it, was to help them out.
The stream began its own work for the trout by scouring a deeper pool at the junction of the logs. The water would become more oxygenated; the silt would be pushed from the stream bed, thus exposing fresh gravel needed for the spawning of trout.