Spring Creek Trout Unlimited chapter wins coveted Gold Trout award

From left, Trout Unlimited’s Mick McCorcle with Bob Vierck and Judi Sittler at Trout Unlimited’s national awards banquet in Bozeman, Mont., on September 29.
From left, Trout Unlimited’s Mick McCorcle with Bob Vierck and Judi Sittler at Trout Unlimited’s national awards banquet in Bozeman, Mont., on September 29. Photo provided

One lane of the very busy state Route 26 between State College and Lemont was closed off for several days late last month. Driving by, some of you might have noticed a large construction crane planted firmly on that closed east-bound lane.

What the heck was going on?

If you happened to stick around long enough, you could have seen arborists from Penn State cutting and then lifting entire trees from along the banks of the PSU/Centre Furnace Duck Pond. The trees were placed on the road and quickly processed into logs and wood chips. What you probably would not have noticed were the dozen or so volunteers from the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited clearing woody debris and cut trees and shrubs from the dike that separates Thompson Run from the pond.

The project, a joint effort between Trout Unlimited and Penn State, is repairing the dike that separates Thompson Run’s cold limestone water from the pond. This conservation effort, which channels the cold water into Spring Creek, was started by noted fly angler and former Penn State University fly-fishing instructor Joe Humphreys way back in 1977. The 87-year-old Humphreys was there in September helping too, collecting branches from the dike and passing them up along a human chain to the wood chipper.

“This project is the one thing that I am most proud of, and I want to see it through to the end,” Humphreys commented during a break in the work along Thompson Run.

There are not many Trout Unlimited chapters that are ever responsible for blocking a major thoroughfare. Then again, there are not many TU chapters that can stake claim to the conservation organization’s top honor: the Gold Trout Award.

On Sept. 29, chapter president Bob Vierck and former president Judi Sittler traveled to Bozeman, Mont., to receive the well-deserved award.

“To think that we were judged the best of the 400 chapters speaks significantly to our volunteer base, growing membership and the leaders of various aspects of our chapter’s activities,” Vierck noted.

“It was impressive to hear about the great conservation work being done all across the United States by other chapters,” Sittler said. “I was humbled, knowing that we had been selected for the Gold Trout.”

This column has covered various projects and activities of the Spring Creek Chapter over the past several years. These have included youth fishing events at the Northeast Fishery Center, habitat improvements on Spring Creek, their nationally-acclaimed Veterans Service Program, and an extensive angler survey on Spring Creek. Truth be known, I could almost fill this bi-weekly column with the chapter’s accomplishments. There is rarely a week that goes by without Spring Creek TU volunteers interacting with the community or Spring Creek’s riparian habitat in some significant way.

In fact, chairman of TU’s National Leadership Council Mick McCorcle said at the awards banquet, “I’m convinced that this chapter … just never stops.”

In recent years, the chapter’s ambitious stream and riparian habitat programs have helped to build 13 in-stream structures and planted over 7,000 trees and shrubs along Spring Creek. These projects lessen erosion, provide shade, stabilize the stream bank and create trout habitat. Much of this work occurred at the site of the former McCoy Dam between Bellefonte and Milesburg.

Each fall, SCTU volunteers conduct a redd count to assess trout reproduction along the 22 miles of Spring Creek and a tributary, Slab Cabin Run. In 2014, 17 volunteers, working 154 two-hour shifts, surveyed anglers along their namesake stream over a 4 1/2-month period. The chapter also supports several ongoing water quality monitoring projects on this fishery. Just this list alone is more than many TU chapters accomplish, but this was not even the main reason the chapter was selected for the Gold Trout.

According to the awards committee, it is the chapter’s focus on building community — and reaching people not typically touched by TU — that made them this year’s Gold Trout Award winner.

Spring Creek TU is constantly hosting events and activities, including their robust Veterans Service Partnership program. Jim Lanning heads the VSP program that, in just 27 months, has helped over 300 veterans and their families, allowing them to experience the power of both healing and community through fishing, networking and the chapter’s hospitality.

New for the chapter was the Get Outdoors Family Picnic — another community outreach event organized by Sittler — held last summer. This inaugural event attracted over 300 community members to the pond at Tussey Mountain for fishing, free food, games and educational displays. Another bigger and better Get Outdoors Family Picnic is already being planned for June 11, 2017.

In separate conversations, I asked Vierck and Sittler what makes the chapter so vibrant. Interestingly, they both gave me answers that hit on the same point.

“We don’t just do one thing,” Vierck said. “Through our partners, we touch so many different areas that we are considered a part of the community.”

“I think that it is our well-roundedness that is important,” Sittler noted. “This gives us the ability to recruit a lot of different volunteers for different activities, using each person’s strength. Also, we aren’t afraid to try something new.”

With the CDT providing frequent coverage of SCTU activities, it is obvious that the chapter has many strengths going beyond Vierck and Sittler’s answers. Starting at the top, Vierck, Sittler and Lanning collectively put in close to 80 hours per week. Each of them has made Trout Unlimited the major focus of their retirement. It is hard to miss with leaders such as these.

Also, there are about a dozen other members guiding various efforts like Joe Boston, who coordinates habitat improvement; Scott Brumbaugh, who keeps tabs on legislation and happenings within the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; or vice president Paula Sowers, who is very active in community outreach and hosts the chapter’s annual holiday party. Out of the chapter’s 485 members, 50 to 80 contribute significantly to its many activities each year.

Another big strength is their ability to bring partners together to accomplish environmental goals. These include Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, local municipalities, many area businesses and other conservation groups.

Everything about Spring Creek TU is first class, from well-organized meetings, a robust website, treating meeting speakers to dinner and even thank you notes sent to those who help.

Congratulations to the chapter for this well-deserved award. The members’ continuing volunteer efforts have done much to enhance Spring Creek and our surrounding community.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at