‘Incredible’ volunteers brave chill to plant trees along Spring Creek near Milesburg

crosenbl@centredaily.comApril 23, 2014 

— Unlike Jeff Schmid, the fledgling chokecherry tree had protection from the blustery wind.

Schmid lowered a green grow tube over the sapling, adding to a strange grove alongside Spring Creek outside Milesburg. He and several others spent a chilly Wednesday planting native trees and shrubs to stem erosion and improve trout habitat on the former McCoy’s Dam site.

Tubes sprouted from one creek bank, the fruit of a joint effort organized by the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Forty-three people began the project on Tuesday, the global date for Earth Day, with 25 finishing the day after. Trout Unlimited and ClearWater Conservancy volunteers teamed with employees of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and state Fish and Boat Commission.

Overall, the workers planted about 1,750 trees and shrubs representing 19 species on the commission-owned land.

“It’s nice to see this many plants and this many volunteers,” said Schmid, a fisheries biologist with the commission’s habitat management division.

It took a true partnership for success.

The Trout Unlimited chapter provided $1,600 worth of plants, drawing on a $69,800 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant. ClearWater donated the shovels, spades and other tools, and the WPC gave the grow tubes, stakes and weed-suppressing plastic mats.

“The volunteers here are just incredible,” said chapter member Joe Boston, the chief organizer.

“All the people up here know what they’re doing. What’s being planted has a real good chance of surviving.”

Tyler Niemond, a Fish and Boat Commission habitat manager helping out Wednesday, said the project “probably would not have been possible to be completed” without Trout Unlimited’s leadership.

Chapter President Bob Vierck saluted everyone involved.

“This is a truly a remarkable undertaking,” he said.

Another partner played perhaps the most critical role — without digging any holes.

These days, Spring Creek is running swiftly and deep at the work site, a daunting obstacle between volunteers and the far shore with the plantings.

But the Citizen’s Hook and Ladder Fire Company in Milesburg came to the rescue.

Company members ferried volunteers over from the state Route 144 side in a rescue boat moved along by a rope pulley system.

Boston said that after Trout Unlimited learned it couldn’t get to the site from Milesburg along railroad tracks, company Chief Brian Burns readily agreed to help — a key to fulfilling a project years in the making.

“This side has always had a logistics problem, getting people across,” Boston said. “The stream is not easily wade-able here.”

In 2007, McCoy’s Dam was demolished after holding back the creek for almost a century. A silt-filled pool suddenly became a rushing torrent again.

Two years later, Trout Unlimited and ClearWater Conservancy collaborated on a riparian planting project along the state Route 144 bank of the 1,200-foot stretch between Bellefonte and Milesburg.

With the dam in place, Boston said, the stretch contained no brown trout. Now, after riparian improvements such as plants, stumps and rock vanes that reduce erosion and create shelter eddies, the area claims the highest trout concentration along the creek, he said.

“It’s just amazing what a little bit of work will do, and how nature responds to it,” Boston said.

The latest project set out to continue the restoration.

Plant species such as black willow, silky dogwood, gray dogwood, elderberry, highbush cranberry and different conifers will shore up the bank, reducing sedimentation in the creek and improving water quality for trout, said Carolyn Itle-Sherry, a watershed scientist with the WPC and a project volunteer.

More vegetation also will provide food and habitat for insects that trout eat, as well as shade for aquatic cover and comfort, she said.

“The increased amount of shade will decrease the temperature of the water,” she said. “That’s beneficial for the trout because they’re a cold-water species.”

In a few years, the creek bank also might make people happy.

“Some of those trees are going to be flowering,” Boston said. “So it should be beautiful.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.

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