Tag Archives: West Virginia

Walking the River

Some of us merely enjoy nature as a place to visit – others take action to protect it. Gary Lang, a fly fishing guide in Elkins, West Virginia, has done some of both.

In his 40 years on Elkins’ crystal-clear rivers, Lang has not only made a living guiding his customers to some of the best trout fishing in the Northeast, but has also partnered with the Service and others to preserve those rivers for future generations. Having served as the president of his local Trout Unlimited chapter, Lang has worked to restore riverbanks, remove invasive species, and keep the rivers pristine for wildlife and people to enjoy. His efforts have helped improve conditions for native species like brook trout, and have also helped put the rivers of Elkins on the map for fly fishers across the region.

“There is nothing better than spending your day outside in beautiful surroundings, in a country you know and appreciate,” said Lang.

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Gary Lang’s story is featured in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Nature’s Good Neighbors series, which highlights people across the U.S. who depend on the land as much as the land depends on them. These modern-day stewards of the land are working with nature to make a home for people and wildlife. 

The Taste of Success

Appearance. Odor. Flavor. Mouth feel. No, we’re not talking about wine – this is water.

Award-winning water, to be precise; these are just a few of the criteria used to name Clarksburg, West Virginia’s tap water as the best in the state. It’s the first time Clarksburg has won the Rural Water Association Taste Test Competition, and the victory comes just a year after the Service and partners completed a major dam removal and river cleanup project on Clarksburg’s water supply, the West Fork River.

“We’re proud of it. You really have to attribute it to the cleanup of the river,” said Dick Welch, general manager of the Clarksburg Water Board.

The Service removed three dams from the West Fork in 2016: the Two Lick, the Highland, and the West Milford Dams- each of which had been cited for safety concerns and were considered barriers to wildlife – were all taken out, restoring  a natural flow to 491 miles of river. In addition, local agencies and volunteer groups led a cleanup effort that removed more than 61,000 pounds of trash – including 1,212 tires, several televisions, and even a car – from the river.

“I have people coming up all the time saying, ‘Hey, I’m really coming around on this, the river’s beautiful, the water is clear,’”  said Service biologist Nick Millett. “The clarity of the water has certainly improved.”

The project was a crossroads of many interests, from restoring habitat for mussel populations like the endangered clubshell mussel, to preventing flood risk to nearby communities, to improving fishing and other recreation on the river. The dams had also been responsible for several drownings over the years, which had prompted serious safety concerns.

Yet getting the removals approved was no easy task – many residents nearby feared that the project could hurt fishing in the area, or could even increase flooding during storm events. It took several years of negotiations and trust building to get the support of the community.

“A lot of people in the community were really skeptical, you know, they thought, ‘Big bad government’s coming in, telling us how to live our lives and taking our river away,’” said Millett.

Since the project’s completion, however, this section of the West Fork has been transformed. Early reports suggest that fishing has improved, with fewer barriers to fish migration easing their passage and increasing fish counts. Communities have also seen a demonstrably reduced flood risk: a high water event in summer of 2017 did not spill over the river’s banks, even in areas that had previously been prone to flooding. And with no obstructions in their way, kayakers and canoeists have enjoyed the free flow of the river, no longer forced to portage around the crumbling dams.

Highland Dam, post-removal. Credit: Nick Millett

Highland Dam site, post-removal (Credit: Callie McMunigal)

“I think the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has done an excellent job gaining the trust of the community and responding to complaints quickly,” said Welch. “People see that the project has been worthwhile.”

Not only has the water looked visually clearer than before, but the Clarksburg water board also saw a savings of more than $45,000 in water treatment costs this year.

“We noticed we were using fewer chemicals,” said Welch. “That tells you that the river is cleaner.”

Time will tell when the mussel populations will show the benefits of the project. Reclusive creatures with long life cycles, the mussels need what’s called riffle pool habitat to survive, and require the hospitality of fish in the river, who become hosts to mussel larvae until they mature enough to grow a shell. It may take years to see the benefits of the dam removals, but with more fish to act as hosts and more riffle pool opened up by reduced dam impoundments, the stage is set for the little molluscs to return to the river.

In the meantime, residents of Clarksburg can bask in the glow of their water competition win, and root for their favorite beverage as it goes on to the national tap water competition in 2018.

Victory has never tasted so good.

Partners on the West Fork River include the Clarksburg Water Board, Canaan Valley Institute, Southwestern Energy, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, American Rivers, AllStar Ecology, LLC., West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Fishing Report WV, Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership, National Fish Passage Program, and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Since 2009, the Service and partners have removed or replaced more than 507 barriers to fish passage from Maine to West Virginia, reconnecting more than 4,020 miles of rivers and streams and 19,300 acres of wetlands. Partners across the Northeast have matched the Service’s funding contribution nearly 5 to 1, contributing $56.1 million to the Service’s $12.5 million to restore aquatic connectivity for wildlife and protect communities. 

Fishing Follows Me

Today you are hearing from Anna Harris, project leader at Maine Ecological Services Field Office

I grew up alongside the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t until I spent a summer in Montana that I truly become a fisherwoman.

My shift at the dude ranch in Big Sky ended by 3pm, so every afternoon I was off exploring the range. The Lodge was Orvis Endorsed, meaning there were some of the best guides in the world spending their summers guiding clients in boats and on the banks of the Yellowstone, Madison and Gallatin. World class trout streams surrounded me. Since it takes years to become one of the top guides for Orvis, many junior guides were willing to take anyone out on the water, even willing to teach me how to fly fish.

My ethic became catch and release. My rod became a 9 foot 5 weight. My attire now included boots, waders, a vest and net. I brought my new fishing accessories back east as I returned to West Virginia to start my senior year at University.

West Virginia has incredible waters. The Bluestone River in south central WV, the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac, and Seneca creek were some of my favorite waters to explore.

Moving to Virginia meant finding new water. I started to fall in love with fishing for native brook trout. Small streams in the Shenandoah National Park became my passion. I’d spend weekends fishing Jeremy’s, Cedars and Big Run and camping in the park.

Moving closer to Washington D.C. meant finding new water and new fishing gear. Luckily D.C. has many organizations active in recruiting anglers to the area. Between Trout Unlimited and the Tidal Potomac River Fly Rodders, many fishermen and woman were willing to share their fishing spots with a new-to-the-area angler. I increased my rod to an 8 weight and changed the tackle to include Clouser Minnows and the “SpongeBob square pants” fly in order to catch small mouth bass and shad around the Capital.

I met my husband through fly fishing and together we explored trout streams in Maryland including our favorite limestone stream, Beaver Creek.  We began to travel around the east coast together, learning new forms of fishing and finding new waters to wade in.

Together we moved west in 2014. Oregon is an anglers paradise. We had the opportunity to fish for steelhead, salmon and cutthroat trout. Unlike many of the states I’d fished in back east, we could fish any time of year, for many fish species. The waters of Oregon, with the diversity of fish species and river access, make it one of the most incredible places I’ve ever lived for fishing.

Now we are back east, closer to home, in Mid-Coast Maine. The bugs have been unbearable but the brook trout fishing has been phenomenal. Meeting and sharing stories with anglers along the St. George River has reinforced my sense of connection to the river and the state.

As I’ve moved around the country, I realize that no matter where I’m headed or where I’ve came from, there is always a place to fish. I continue to find my solace on the water, a connection to the community, and a fondness for casting a line into the water waiting for a tight tug, a hard hit or the rise of a fish after my fly.