I watched the children carry their jars with native Brook Trout fingerlings to the edge of Poague Run. They carefully stepped close to the water and tipped the jars over releasing the fish into the stream. This simple act is a conservationist’s “Mount Everest”. Together, we climbed the mountain. Together we restored a stream. Together we can restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Poague Run until recently was so polluted this would have never taken place. The stream is now healthy enough to reintroduce the native fish that once thrived – Brook Trout. This pilgrimage took sixteen years and on a beautiful sunny day in April 2014, hundreds of people came out to Rolling Hills farm owned by Carolyn Moore Ford, to help celebrate working farms, conservation and clean streams. It was the inaugural “Kites and Critters” field day sponsored by the Valley Conservation Council, a private land trust serving the Shenandoah Valley region.
Poague Run is a tributary of Lewis creek originating within the city of Staunton, Virginia, which flows into Middle River, the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, the Potomac River and finally the Chesapeake Bay. This successful restoration is a sterling example of leadership, partnerships and people working together. It all started sixteen years ago in 1998, when two cousins, Lewis and John Moore started fencing cows out of the streams on their farms. This was the year USDA began funding livestock stream exclusion and riparian buffers through the Conservation Reserve Program.
What’s that famous Margaret Meade saying? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
It happened in the Poague Run watershed. What was once a polluted stream with fecal coliform counts off the scale is now being stocked with native Brook Trout. Livestock no longer trample the stream banks or pollute its waters. Human waste no longer leaks into the stream from failing septic fields or leaking pipes.
The first key to this success was leadership from the landowners who had a desire to have cleaner streams on their farms. These landowners were: Lewis and Gayle Moore, Carolyn Moore Ford, Lee and Alison Hereford. The second key was a long term, trusting relationship between the landowners, the government and private non-profit organizations. The USDA, Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Department of Forestry supplied funds and technical assistance. Trout Unlimited, Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, Friends of Middle River, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Valley Conservation Council supplied funding, technical assistance and volunteers. Volunteers also came from Mary Baldwin College, James Madison University, Augusta Bird Club and the Shenandoah Master Naturalists.
Thousands of feet of fence went in, waterline was laid, watering troughs were installed, septic fields were fixed, trees, shrubs and native prairie planted. Houses were connected to city sewer lines. Volunteers monitored water temperature, stream banks were healed. Watershed meetings were held and mailings went out to all the people within this 3,000 acre watershed.
It worked. Sure there were rough times and disappointments but we weathered through it and kept at it. Perseverance and patience prevailed. Now the city of Staunton and the people living in the Poague Run watershed can boast of a clean stream, working farms and native trout.
Congratulations to the landowners and farmers in the Poague Run watershed and to all the people that made this happen. Everyone benefits from good land use.
What happened in Poague Run is happening in small watersheds all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed and it can happen in the watershed where you live.
What is the status of the watershed where you live?