Poague Run – Sterling Example of Watershed Restoration

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.

Emily eagerly carries her Brook Trout to the waters edge to release.

Emma eagerly carries her Brook Trout to the waters edge to release.

Do you think Jake likes his Trout?

Do you think Jake likes his Trout?

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.

Front page of the News Leader.  Click on the image to read the article.

Front page of the News Leader. Click on the image to read the article.

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.

Native Brook Trout in a tank ready for release into Poague Run.  The tank was on the other side of the fence that keeps the cows out of the stream; symbolizing one of the keys to a healthy stream.

Native Brook Trout in a tank ready for release into Poague Run. The tank was on the other side of the fence that keeps the cows out of the stream; symbolizing one of the keys to a healthy stream.

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.

Cattle in Poague Run before exclusion fencing.  Petri dishes show fecal colonies before and after livestock exclusion.  There were 3,850 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml of water before exclusion and 25 after.

Cattle in Poague Run before exclusion fencing. Petri dishes show fecal colonies before and after livestock exclusion. There were 3,850 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml of water before exclusion and 25 after.

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?

Comments

  1. Wade Biddix says:

    Bobby,

    Excellent article and example of a successful watershed project. Through partnerships and committed residents/citizens, these polluted streams can be cleaned up and restored to support a thriving and vibrant community – both on the land and in the water. Great job and congratulations to everyone involved.

    Wade Biddix

  2. A hearty pat on the back to all involved. Patience and perseverance, cooperation and know-how paid off in the long run. Everyone needs to share this example to get more programs started and give confidence to those undergoing similar projects.

  3. Ann Jurczyk says:

    Leadership, persistence, collaboration, a caring community and a vision — a model for stewardship and restoration we can all learn from. Thanks for the early morning inspiration!

  4. sundaram periyasamy says:

    That is so neat!

  5. Bobby – thanks for another encouraging story. The image of the trout fingerlings through the livestock exclusion fence is loaded with meaning – great photojournalism! This story recalls for me the goosebumps I got when I learned one of my local streams, Lititz Run, had trout fingerlings from eggs laid in a former dairy pasture. Nature abounds with grace. Reading this story on Saturday before Easter is great context.

  6. Jackie Shannon says:

    Truly inspiring! “Everyone benefits from good land use.” Thank you for sharing this wonderful success story.

  7. Rosalie Frankel and Tom Abel says:

    We are so lucky to have met Caroline so many years ago when her dad and mom were still alive. The whole family is so grounded in the history of their farm and reflect the love of their land. So it is natural extention of the family tradition to have Carolyn be a part of the leadership in this culminating event. We are so proud of your efforts.

  8. Rich Shockey says:

    Bobby,
    Thanks for sharing this information. Keep up the great work! I will share this with as many folks in PA that I can. Sixteen years to go from a polluted stream to trout is fantastic. Every watershed should be on the same path of improvement. Keep in touch!

    Rich

  9. Will Ables says:

    Dear Mr. Whitescarver,

    I greatly appreciate all that you do for this world, and i hope that when i grow up i can help the world in a similar way as you. Thank you a billion.

    Sincerely, Will

  10. Love the photos and the story Bobby! You are teaching the rest of us the importance of connecting people to the resources via story. Thank You.

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