Which Lancaster County Service Club has over 800 members and has secured over $6.5 million in grants over the past 54 years to eliminate pollution and bring back wild trout over 17 miles of a dozen stream?
The Donegal chapter of Trout Unlimited, probably the most active and productive grassroots club you will ever hear of.
Recently, one of the county’s most successful conservation groups accepted the award for Pennsylvania’s top Trout Unlimited chapter – of 52 – for 2021. It was the second time the club has been so honored since its founding in the under floor of Mount Joy’s Ken Depoe in 1967.
Initially started as a student fly-fishing club by Depoe, 93, a retired graphic arts teacher at Donegal High School, the chapter began to become much more than that with the arrival of Bob Kutz. , of East Hempfield Township, and Greg Wilson, of Lititz, who died Thursday morning at age 62 of complications from COVID-19.
The club’s initial push was to get the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to create two fly-fishing and release-only stream sections in Lancaster County. They did it.
Then the fledgling club wanted to do more to give back to the streams that gave them so much fun. But, as Kutz says, “We didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t have the money.”
Then Wilson joined. A workaholic extraordinaire, Wilson once joked to Kutz, “You find the money and I’ll spend it.”
Why, Wilson thought aloud, should he drive all over the state to find the best trout fishing when there were creeks that could offer that in Lancaster County?
They started by taking $300 in dues and did a modest initial project to improve Lititz Run, a creek with natural spring water but cursed with pollution. Twenty years and over a million dollars later, Lititz Run’s restoration has won national awards and the creek is home to wild breeding brown and rainbow trout.
Kutz, who owned his own business, learned the ropes and became adept enough to attract state, federal and local grants to support the restoration of local cold streams. Wilson, who owned a concrete business, became adept at twisting the arms of local contractors to provide free or low-cost backhoes and operators, and fielding volunteers to do the dirty work. He himself was always in the mud, doing groundwork on projects.
Together they became a powerhouse team, cleaning up promising but deteriorating cold waterways around the county one by one. The winning formula involved stopping erosion and the flow of agricultural runoff into waterways while creating habitat for fish. Next, vegetation is planted along the creek to provide shade and filter runoff.
“We just fed off of each other,” says Kutz. “We just rolled the ball and rolled and rolled.”
In 2021, the chapter established its first annual conservation award for county residents. Kutz and Wilson, who have dedicated more than 35 years to the cause, were the first to receive the award.
In the beginning, the chapter held fundraising banquets to help finance small projects. But Kutz, now 80 and still reeling from the subsidies, began to attract bigger fish.
The chapter’s work was so successful and of high quality that the state Department of Environmental Protection came to the group and asked if they would support larger cleanups to remove the yards from the area. water from the state’s impaired water list. With Lancaster County having more miles of degraded waterways than any other, there were plenty of possible projects.
Money from DEP and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for Chesapeake Bay restoration has begun to arrive. Since 2006, significant work has focused on Conowingo Creek at the south end of the county. It continues today.
Other streams that have had sections restored include Fishing Creek, Big Beaver Creek, Segloch Run, Furnace Run, Swarr Run, Jackson Run, Charles Run, Bowery Run, and Climbers Run.
All are streams that contain wild trout or that the chapter knows could contain them with proper medical treatment.
This spring, improvements will be made to Peters Creek, which has been targeted because it is home to one of the last known populations of the endangered Chesapeake perch.
The work is not always on the water. Obtaining financial assistance and technical advice from farmers to prevent runoff from reaching the watercourse can be equally important. Things like putting a gutter over a barn to prevent rainwater from collecting manure and running off into a stream.
Donegal TU will also be a key partner in a major new state initiative to restore the upper reaches of Hammer Creek to bring back trout and prevent Speedwell Forge Lake from refilling with sediment from upstream agriculture.
As the all-volunteer chapter’s successes multiplied, membership grew to be the second largest in the state, its 885 members surpassed only by a Pittsburgh-area chapter.
Today, many chapter members are families and individuals who don’t even fly fish but want to roll up their sleeves and open their wallets to support local cold water conservation.
Lydia Martin from Conestoga was moved by what she saw in Donegal TU’s restoration of Climbers Run on property owned by the Lancaster Conservancy.
“I was delighted that someone was looking into cold water resources. I felt like the focus was on the land but not on the aquatic insects,” she recalls. “I’m really excited to be part of a homegrown effort. Not everyone enters the chapter through the lens of “Here’s how to fly fish”.
Now, Martin is the Chapter’s Director of Communications as well as a member of the Board of Directors and is credited with increasing membership to record levels.
Martin also cites the chapter’s deliberate efforts to be more inclusive, attracting more women, people from diverse and underserved communities, and local students.
He supports a statewide program called Stream Girls that uses women to introduce young girls to both fly fishing and scientific stream appreciation. Girl Scouts can earn merit badges under it. Through the Trout in the Classroom program, students at more than two dozen local schools raise trout from fry in their classrooms and then release them into local waterways.
Four of the seven members of the chapter’s board of directors are women.
The club has certainly not forgotten its fly fishing roots. Free fly fishing and fly tying lessons are held periodically. And most members know how to match the hatch and tie their own flies.
But it became much, much more, to the benefit of Lancaster County. The club recently joined Lancaster Clean Water Partners, a county-wide collaborative partnership of various organizations with the goal of keeping Lancaster County’s water flowing clean and clear by 2040.
The club helped start a handful of grassroots watershed groups in the county, including one made up of Plain Sect farmers.
“We decided we didn’t just want to be a fishing organization,” says former president Barry Witmer, who helps run the group’s native tree nursery at Millport Conservancy near Lititz to supply riparian buffer projects .
It invites individuals or families with no interest in fishing to volunteer to plant a stream or join the new Volunteer Water Quality Coalition that trains ordinary people to become scientists. citizens and to test and monitor local stream sections.
“It’s not a fishing club,” Kutz points out. “We are more of a conservation business than anything else.”
This is how Witmer sums up what the Donegal chapter of Trout Unlimited has become: “It’s about neighbors coming together to help their neighbors.”
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