Kate Leous emerged from the waters of Thompson Run in State College soaking wet and probably more than a little cold.
Her hands were covered in a black, tar-like substance that — optimistically speaking — most likely bared some distant relation to mud.
“I don’t even know what this is — it’s probably really gross,” Kate said.
One of her classmates helpfully chimed in with a reminder that only a few hours ago, the spot where Kate had been standing in the water had been home to a massive, concrete sewage pipe.
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Suffice it to say that there are some mysteries that nobody has an interest in solving.
That was the scene on the stretch of East College Avenue outside of Blaise Alexander Chrysler Jeep Dodge on Monday morning: kids, logs and construction equipment.
To understand how these three diverse elements came together, first it’s important to know a little something about a grant recently administered by the Coldwater Heritage Partnership and a man named John Ford.
It’s nothing but a straight line and that’s not what you want for a trout stream.
John Ford, president of the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team
The aforementioned Mr. Ford is the president of the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team, a group of nationally selected young anglers who compete in tournaments around the country. In its downtime, the group also acts as steward of the waters.
What exactly that means can vary from place to place, but in the case of Thompson Run, it involves adding mudsills to increase the stream’s sinuosity.
“It’s nothing but a straight line and that’s not what you want for a trout stream,” Ford said.
The mudsills will also help prevent erosion to the bank, which leads directly up to East College.
Ford was examining the stream one day when he noticed that a large concrete sewage pipe positioned diagonally within the stream was throwing water up toward the pavement’s edge.
He contacted the state Department of Transportation, and upon examination of the site, the organization agreed that the continued erosion of the bank could prove dangerous to the road.
That’s where Monday morning’s assortment of heavy machinery came into the picture.
PennDOT removed a section of the guardrail along East College Avenue and extracted the sewage pipe through the opening. In its place, they dug three new trenches where mudsills and a little bit of limestone will help prevent further erosion.
It’s pretty cool because I’m actually making a difference and not just learning about how I could be making a difference.
Thad Valentine, student
The wood for the new sills — which arrived in the shape of three dozen 20-foot hemlock logs — came from the majestic grounds of Rothrock State Forrest.
“We dedicated staff time for a day to collect wood for the project,” Mark Potter, Rothrock district forester, said.
With PennDOT helping to lower the logs into the water, it fell to Kate and a fellow student from the Delta Program to hammer them into place using a rebar and sledgehammer, which under the guidance of a representative from Trout Unlimited seemed to bring them no shortage of delight.
Downstream, their cohorts were also ankle-deep in water, taking pH readings. The students were part of a Expedition Chesapeake Science class that will be monitoring the stream for the duration of the project’s 18-month timetable.
In the spring, they will return to see if conditions in the stream have improved for wildlife.
“It’s pretty cool because I’m actually making a difference and not just learning about how I could be making a difference,” student Thad Valentine said.
While others will continue to contribute to the project — Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. donated the limestone — Ford said that members of the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team will take the lead whenever they are in town.
There’s still more work to be done on other portions of the stream, but some of that will have to wait until post trout spawning season, which the project will officially observe beginning Saturday.