The Beginning of the Tock’s Island Fight and
the Fred S. Burroughs North Jersey Chapter of Trout Unlimited
THE BIG FLATBROOK RIVER:
Back in the mid 1960’s Fritz Gerds, Mike Tagliaferro, and myself had become completely enamored with the Flatbrook. We fished that stream for about eight years and fished almost nowhere else. For example: we would drive 2 hours from Essex County, where we all lived, just to fish an hour or so of the evening hatch (or no hatch).
We started to hear rumblings and rumors about a government project on the Delaware River. Then, one hot summer afternoon we stopped for a cool drink at a little General Store at Bevans or what is now known as “Peter’s Valley.” A local farmer was moaning at great lengths about how the Flatbrook is going to be buried by a huge reservoir after all the local residents were kicked out!!! This sounded serious, so we decided to see what we could find out about it; but how??? The local media had been letting out news on the project in dribs and drabs in a very low profile manner.
Slightly before this time the Theodore Gordon Flyfishers Club in New York held a great seminar on fly fishing with appearances and talks by people like Ernest Schwiebert and Lee Wulff (who were members of the club). Remember, at this time, (almost 40 years ago) Fly Fishermen were the minority. There were a few books about fly fishing and fly fishing only had small coverage in general outdoor magazines like “Field and Stream” and “Outdoor Life.”
This Theodore Gordon Flyfishers seminar was a very attractive event and it was free!
Fritz and I attended, and much to our surprise, it turned out to be a recruiting event for club membership. We hesitated, thinking that we surely couldn’t afford a membership in a group of people of such great status. It turned out that the dues were only $10 a year. Needless to say, we joined!!!
A couple of months later the club formed their first formal Conservation Committee. They had been active on scattered environmental issues but not really organized. Fritz and I joined the committee and showed up for the first meeting. Remember, this was in the late sixties and “Flower Children” and “Earth Day” had happened!!! The Country was becoming aware of what was happening to the Environment.
This new Conservation Committee consisted of about 10 or 12 members. The Chairman was a man named Gardner Grant who was very affluent and had a lot of influence. Gardner called the meeting to order, introduced everyone, then asked what conservation issues anyone wanted to discuss.
I happened to be seated at his immediate left with Fritz on the other side, so I go to go first. Well, I started to explain what we had heard about the Government’s Delaware Dam Project and the Flatbrook involvement. One of the committee members, named Robert Johnson (who just completed a term as President of the Theodore Gordon Club), became very interested. He explained that he formerly lived in New Jersey and loved to fish the Flatbrook. The entire committee became aroused and the discussion went on for quite some time.
Then Gardner Grant turned to me and said, “if I set up a meeting with an Officer of the Delaware Dam Project, would you go to the Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Philadelphia and get briefed on what the project is all about?” In a New York minute, Fritz and I agreed to go.
Well, in about a week Gardner called with the appointment to meet an Army Corp Lieutenant Colonel at the Corps Headquarters in Philadelphia.
When I picked up Fritz for the drive to Philly, his sister Gretchen said, “Why don’t you take a tape recorder?” We agreed. (What did we have to lose?)
We met the Colonel, who gave us a big Public Relations Smile and asked us to sit down. Fritz asked if he minded if we taped the conversation. He said it was O.K. and Fritz put the tape recorder on the bench next to him. We sat across from the Colonel at a large wooden table, so the recorder was quickly forgotten.
The colonel proceeded to expound on what we now knew as the “Tocks Island Dam Project.” He seemed very proud of this coming achievement of the Army Corps of Engineers, and filled us in on everything. Of course Fritz and I “oohed and aahed” at everything and tried not to interrupt.
At one point, when he was talking about the Hydro-Electric Power part of the project, he explained how the water would be drawn from the reservoir, then dropped a distance to generate electric power at peak use time. At this point, one of us, (I don’t remember who) asked him how much of a drawdown from the reservoir would there be? As I remember, he said approximately 55 feet. Well, to Fritz and I, that statement was large, because at that time they were trying to sell the dam project as a “recreation” boon. Mud Flats immediately came to mind.
We concluded that interview and Fritz and I ran home and Fritz’s sister Gretchen transcribed the tape recording on typed pages. We had the whole thing from the “Horse’s Mouth” on paper. Now what did we do with it?
The first thing we did was report it back to Gardner Grant and the Theodor Gordon Flyfishers. They were very happy with the information and told us that they would help all they could, but we had to get something going in New Jersey first. So what did we do?
Well, (as luck would have it) I happened to read a newspaper column mentioning that a Trout Unlimited chapter has started in North Jersey and the column gave the date and site of the next meeting which was in Newton, at Waldmere’s Restaurant. It was their 2nd or 3rd meeting, so Fritz, myself, and our old Flatbrook fishing buddy Mike Tagliaferro, deiced to go to the meeting and see if we could find a way to get our message out to the fishermen and anyone else we could recruit.
At that meeting, the Chapter consisted of the Founding Father, Fred Burroughs, and (as memory serves), less than a dozen members, mostly Sussex County fishing “cronies”.
After the meeting adjourned, we spoke to Fred S. Burroughs and explained what we had and if, and how, he’d like to present it to the Chapter. He suggested that we have a small meeting between the 4 of us before the next Chapter meeting and go over the whole thing. We met at the Black Bull Tavern on Route 46 and Fred proceeded to read it. He became astonished and excited over the enormity of the Tocks Project. Fred asked me if I would read the entire interview at the next TU chapter meeting. Of course I agreed.
When I finished reading the information on the project at the Chapter meeting, most became aroused and said we should immediately go about spreading the word to fishermen. There were a few “nay sayers” however, some of whom eventually left the Chapter. They didn’t think we should get “involved”. They just wanted a “Cracker-barrel Fishing Club.”
Having the Chapter’s positive involvement, we started to look for ways to broadcast this information and to “unsell” the Tocks Island Dam Project.
A big break came when the Chapter became involved with the “New Jersey Sportsman Federation.”
Fritz, myself, and Mike got together and dreamed up a political cartoon, combined with a written column devoted to the “outdoors.” The result was titled “ECO-ECHOES.” Steve Tzap, an outdoor writer at the time, for (I think the Passaic Herald) was also the president of the New Jersey Sportsman Federation. Steve agreed to run our Eco-Echoes column once a month in their Club newspaper “The New Jersey Federated Sportsman.”
Of course, besides doing Eco-Echoes for general outdoor (hunting and fishing) issues, we did many on the Tocks Project. These columns were reprinted and sent for posting to Sports Shops all over the state. This method got the “Tocks” message out to a lot of sportsmen.
As the North Jersey Chapter grew, and new chapters were born, our fight became very strong. Other groups joined with us (notably, “The Sierra Club”) and it all came together along with groups from New York and Pennsylvania to form a “juggernaut” called “The Save the Delaware Coalition.”
The rest is history. Finally, a decision was made in Philadelphia by the three governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. They quickly turned on the Tocks Island project. There will be no dam on the Delaware River! Against all odds after 8+ years of dogged persistence, the little people of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey beat “City Hall”.
ADDITIONAL AIDS ALONG THE WAY:
** Private reviews of all Tocks Eco-Echoes columns by Governor Brendan Byrne just before the Delaware Basin Commission tri-State decision via Joan Price, Governor Brendan Byrne’s sister-in-law.
** Central Jersey Chapter (a Doctor), and a new member, suggested Chicken Farms could contribute Salmonella to the waters making the N.J. Medical Society come out against the project. (Some recreation!!)
AN AFTER THOUGHT:
The Army Corps of Engineers had a very good head start on the environmentalists. The effects of the proposed dam got out very late in the game, but fortunately, because of the Vietnam War and other National problems, government funding was very slow so we had a chance to “catch up.” When the word of the dam effects finally started to get out the Corps was just about ready to “dig.”
KUDOS FOR THE FIRST TOCKS FIGHTERS:
The North Jersey Chapter of Trout Unlimited takes credit for getting the first complete and accurate data on the Tocks Project out to the sportsmen of the Tri-State area. Another group, however, drew the first sword against the Tocks Project. This group of hikers and nature lovers got word that Sunfish Pond (a glacier lake) was sold by the State of New Jersey to the power companies Jersey Central Power and Light, Public Service Electric, and New Jersey Power and Light. They then heard that Sunfish Pond would be destroyed by the electric power phase of the Tocks Project.
In 1966 they managed to get several politicians and dignitaries to go on a well publicized hike to Sunfish Pond. Eventually, this group pressured the state to buy back the pond in 1967. They then went on to join the battle against the whole Tocks Project.
TOCKS ISLAND DAM INFORMATION:
- Reservoir 37 miles long. (From just north of the Delaware Water Gap to Port Jervis)
- Estimated yearly visitors to the new national park – 10 ½ million people. (Yellowstone National Park gets 3 million people per year)
We, the current members of the Fred S. Burroughs North Jersey Chapter, are proud to share our heritage with you. We are proud to hold the title of the “First Chapter of Trout Unlimited in New Jersey”. We continually strive to uphold our founding fathers dedication, devotion, and commitment to the environment.
By Chet Johnstone