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Trout Unlimited hosts talk on Crowningshield preserve

  • A native brook trout swimming in the West Branch Brook, within the Crowningshield preservation area in Heath. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FRANKLIN LAND TRUST—

  • A native brook trout swimming in the West Branch Brook, within the Crowningshield preservation area in Heath. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FRANKLIN LAND TRUST



Recorder Staff
Monday, September 12, 2016

SHELBURNE FALLS — Summer heat and drought can be hard on native cold-water fish such as brook trout, which is why the preservation of stream habitat on the old Crowningshield farm in Heath has been a priority for Trout Unlimited and the Franklin Land Trust.

The West Branch Brook, also called the West Branch of the North River, is a headwater stream for native brook trout within the Deerfield River watershed, explains Will Sloan Anderson, head land steward for the Land Trust. “This is an area that can act as a refuge for trout in warm weather, because of its (shady) cover. It’s not too steep, it’s oxygenated water — a natural refrigerator for this cold-water species.”

This part of the stream has not been stocked by the state for at least 25 years, and there are no plans to stock the stream now, Anderson said. “That’s another important thing for the native brook trout — the competition for food is less.”

Thanks to $45,000 raised by Trout Unlimited Chapters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the Land Trust now owns land along a half-mile to three-quarter-mile stretch of the brook on both sides of the bank.

And the land trust’s partnership with Trout Unlimited (TU) has helped to leverage other conservation grants to be used to improve the habitat quality. For instance, this summer work began to remove invasive plant species, such as bittersweet and mutiflora from the land. More work is planned to improve access roads and trails and develop signs and parking for the 100-acre property.

“This is a new model for conservation with active partnership,” Anderson said. “Trout Unlimited has been a great partner — because there are rivers and streams that don’t care about boundaries between towns or states or political boundaries.”

On Thursday at 7 p.m., Anderson and Trout Unlimited regional coordinator Erin Rodgers will talk about the 100-acre Crowningshield area that the Franklin Land Trust purchased in 2015, in collaboration with Trout Unlimited.

The topics of their talk will include in-stream habitat and flood plain reconnection, state-of-the-art forestry techniques to preserve fish habitat, and riparian, anti-erosion zone work.

The Deerfield River Chapter of Trout Unlimited will hold its monthly meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Eagles Club (the upstairs banquet hall) on State Street. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will follow the monthly meeting.

“This Crowningshield (acquisition) is a huge deal,” said Kevin Parsons, vice president of the Deefield River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. He said other conservation agencies and Trout Unlimited are looking at it as a new paradigm.

“Typically, Trout Unlimited is involved in fixing up messes — not with land conservation,” said Parsons, of Shelburne Falls. “A lot of people think we are a fishing club: We’re a conservation organization with a mission of preserving and enhancing cold-water fisheries habitat.”

According to Parsons, a former Deerfield River chapter of Trout Unlimited had become inactive, and a group was talking about reviving it just about the time that Tropical Storm Irene flooded the region’s rivers and streams, in August 2011.

The devastation brought the new Deerfield River Chapter quickly to life, as it provided volunteers to help restoration efforts within the Connecticut River watershed. The group also helped with the North River clean-up, following Irene. They removed two, 30 cubic yards of flood debris from the stream.

When the Crowningshield farm land was put up for sale, the Franklin Land Trust approached Trout Unlimited, in November 2014, to see if the group could help with the purchase.

“This is a good stream,” Parsons said, “very prolific, worthy of protecting.”

Parsons said the local chapter made the Crowningshield land purchase the goal of its holiday fundraiser, and raised $4,500 in a couple of weeks. “We went to the Massachusetts-Rhode Island Council and made a presentation. All the chapters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island stepped up and made donations,” Parsons said. “Boston was particularly generous. Within six weeks, we’d raised $45,000.”

“It’s a really great partnership that is getting (national) attention,” he said.

The land is owned by the Franklin Land Trust, but the conservation restriction is held by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which means it is open to hunting and fishing.

Chris Jackson, co-chairman of Deerfield River Chapter and a board of directors member, worked hard to bring the partnership together, Parsons said.

The Crowningshield Wildlife Management Area is near Route 8A and West Branch Road in Heath.