The Origin of Pennsylvania’s Doc Fritchey Chapter 108

“Doc” receiving award from his namesake chapter in 1998

The Doc Fritchey Chapter’s roots date back to 1970 when a single chapter served the needs of southcentral Pennsylvania TU members. At that time, Cumberland Valley TU, whose membership ranks included Dauphin County, was focused mainly on preserving the widely-known LeTort and other limestone streams west of the Susquehanna River.

Problems started brewing, however, for a Dauphin County freestone stream when the PA Game Commission announced plans in 1966 to swap 1700 acres of recently acquired Stony Valley property with the PA Power & Light Company (PP&L). PP&L in return agreed to donate 5500 acres in the neighboring Clark’s Creek Valley to the Game Commission. State and local officials heralded the swap as an act of PP&L’s generosity in providing land which was “more accessible” to local sportsmen.

A handful of anglers led by Dr. John A. “Doc” Fritchey, Jr. viewed this “act of generosity” in a very different light, however. Doc, who had been fishing Stony Creek since the mid 1930s and had fallen in love with this stream located just 20 minutes north of PA’s capital city, had unsuccessly attempted to purchase 1000 of the 1700 acres then owned by a coal mining company. It was not until after the subsequent purchase of the entire tract by the Game Commission and transfer to PP&L that the power company’s plans to build a dam on Stony Creek and create a major hydroelectric facility in Stony Valley came to light.

Doc’s initial attempts to convince various state, local, and even national government officials to put a halt to the PP&L project fell on deaf ears. In 1970, undaunted by these rejections and fired up for the major battle ahead, Doc contacted the then-infant TU organization to enlist support. TU’s official response was that “it was too late to do anything” about the project. But Doc persisted, and after gathering (with some difficulty) a few dozen members, successfully convinced TU to sanction the formation of the Dauphin Chapter in 1971.

With the help of attorney Bill Beck, who joined the Dauphin Chapter in 1973, and at the urging of TU attorneys, the Stony Valley Coalition was formed. By early 1974 more than 50 conservation organizations, both local and regional, had joined the battle. During the next 6 years, overcoming major obstacles and gathering support from state agencies and legislators, the Coalition was successful in having Stony Creek designated as part of the Pennsylvania Scenic Rivers System. After this victory, PP&L finally gave up the battle, and under the terms of their original agreement, ownership of the 1700 acres of Stony Valley property reverted back to the Game Commission.

Doc expressed mixed emotions over winning the battle, feeling that the publicity would surely ruin forever the pristine wilderness of his cherished Stony Valley. But at the end of the fight, he realized that this was a relatively small price to pay for saving this stream for future generations to enjoy. It is for this selflessness, dedication and just plain hard work that the original Dauphin Chapter was later renamed in Doc’s honor.

As the chapter grew in the 1980s, the membership became more aware that discharges from defunct coal mining operations, as well as the effects of acid precipitation in Stony Valley, were responsible for a diminishing population of wild brook and holdover brown trout. In those days, hatchery trout stocked by the PA Fish & Boat Commission in the early spring months were hard-pressed to survive into the summer months. 

In 1986, with technical assistance provided by the Penn State Cooperative Extension Center, a core group of Doc Fritchey members decided to build a limestone diversion well on Rausch Creek, a major tributary of Stony Creek and contributor of a majority of its acidic water. Utilizing a treatment concept pioneered in Sweden, chapter volunteers labored throughout that year to bring the first diversion well operation online in 1987.

During the ensuing years, the chapter’s efforts were awarded with ever-increasing holdover brook and brown trout populations, beginning immediately below the Rausch Creek operation and extending downstream some 20 or so miles to where Stony Creek empties into the Susquehanna River. To improve year-round treatment results, a second diversion well was built in 2000 to accommodate the heavier than normal precipitation events that periodically affect this remote valley.   

Since 1987, Doc Fritchey Chapter volunteers have faithfully maintained the diversion well operations, turning out each week on a year-round basis to manually shovel as many as 100 tons of limestone per year to keep Stony Creek’s wild trout population viable. As evidenced by this level of commitment, Doc Fritchey TU which today boasts more than 400 members exemplifies a chapter dedicated to achieving Trout Unlimited’s mission in southcentral Pennsylvania. Find out more of what we’re all about at www.dftu.org. 

 
The chapter’s diversion wells in operation on Rausch Creek

Comments

 
said on Monday, March 10th, 2014

Thanks for a great story Bob. Did you interview serval people for the story?

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said on Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Thanks, Doug. I was fortunate to have known "Doc" and even had the occasion to fish with him several months before he passed away at age 99 in 2006, so most of the information about our chapter's history was obtained firsthand from its founder. I was also given his papers after he died, so had the benefit of referencing his correspondence and various news articles which were published in the 1970s.

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