Teaming up for trout!

Staff working in stream
Christine, the author

Today you’re hearing from Christine Woodard with the Trust for Tomorrow, a non-profit organization headquartered in North Carolina with active environmental restoration and stewardship programs throughout the East. An experienced stream restoration specialist, Christine oversees stream, wetland and riparian buffer projects throughout the Trust’s focus areas.

Inch by inch, foot by foot, chunk by chunk. . . . the stream kept taking the banks away, carrying the sediment all the way to the Chesapeake Bay!

That is, until the Trust For Tomorrow, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania Field Office, helped it find a better, more sustainable path.

The stream is Poplar Run, a wild trout stream in central Pennsylvania. Although it is only 30 feet wide, it packed a powerful punch when water levels rose. In one area, it had eaten away 75 feet of bank into private property! On the lower half of the project, the stream was completely devoid of places for fish and wildlife: the channel had been straightened, cattle had trampled the banks, and very few trees lined the stream.

As you can see below, extreme erosion left high vertical banks that clogged the stream with sediment (click for captions). Not the most welcoming place for trout.

After several years of careful survey, study, design, and permitting, the project came to the construction phase this August. Here’s what we took care of:

  • A sharp bend in the stream was replaced with a smoother curve, and we filled in the ragged, sharp bend. The new channel alignment is much easier for the stream to flow through.
  • The underground storage tanks in a municipal pump station next to the stream were in trouble. Small channels were cutting into the base of the foundation, threatening to cut into the tanks. Key portions of these channels were filled in to the floodplain level, keeping the erosive waters away from this sensitive area.
Staff working in stream

Larry Brannaka, Ph.D., P.E., and Jennifer Kagel, both of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania Field Office, and a summer intern from the Blair County Conservation District, rescue fish from the old channel before it gets filled in. Photo courtesy of Christine.

  • Along portions of the stream, back channels had cut into surrounding land, digging their way through private yards. These channels were consolidated into a single thread, which functions much more efficiently.
  • At vertical banks, mudsills were installed to slow the water down next to the bank, reduce bank height, and provide excellent cover habitat for fish.
Staff working in stream

Corey Houck, a Habitat Forever employee, Zach Middleton, intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania Field Office, and Zach Zomok, independent laborer, install log decking for a mudsill. Photo courtesy of Christine.


After: A mudsill adds stability by reducing the bank height, slowing down the water against the logs, and keeping the flow away from the edge of the bank. Fish love to hide under these structures! Photo courtesy of Christine.

  • Log vanes were installed along the stream at areas of high stress, such as the outside of bends. The vanes gently direct the flow away from the bank and add wonderful habitat for fish and other aquatic species.
  • Native plants and trees are being planted along the entire length of stream to provide more protection to the banks, cooling shade for the trout, food sources for water and land animals, as well as shelter and nesting areas for birds.

Many folks were anxious to see this project take place: the township supervisors; the pump station manager; the County Conservation District; Natural Resources Conservation Services; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Trust for Tomorrow; and of course, the patient landowners whose yards were affected!

All in all, over 4,000 feet of stream were restored!

Poplar Run after photo

After: The new channel was excavated and the old channel filled in. Blue dashed lines indicate the former path of the stream. Finished mudsill from other photo below can be seen in background, where the stream used to flow. Photo courtesy of Christine.

And since part of this stream runs through a large wetland restoration site, it adds a whole new dimension to these benefits by serving as a travel corridor for the wetland animals and migratory birds. Already, a great blue heron and a bald eagle are regular visitors to the site.

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