Students help reconnect Beaver Creek for native fish

Students from McKinnon Elementary School watch as a recenty tagged fish is released as part of an Adopt-A-Trout program in Wyoming. Hillary Walrath photo.

By Hillary Walrath

A small creek in southwest Wyoming just got a big upgrade.

This past November, a push-up style diversion was improved to a fish-friendly rock vane structure with a head-gate, reconnecting approximately 6 miles of habitat for the native Colorado River cutthroat trout that reside there. This project was unique in that it all began with the local school. Trout Unlimited partnered with the McKinnon Elementary School in McKinnon, Wyoming, to study their home water, the Henry’s Fork River, through the Adopt-a-Trout program.

This particular program involved tagging Colorado River cutthroat trout with telemetry tags and tracking their movement from 2014-2016. The students each got to “adopt” their own fish and follow it throughout the year. They learned a variety of river ecology lessons, including fish anatomy, macroinvertebrate identification, applying the scientific method, riparian ecosystems and many more. They also had to map where their fish moved using Google Earth.

This Colorado River cutthroat trout was tagged and eventually helped elementary students identify a fish passage barrier on a tributary to the Henry's Fork River. Hillary Walrath photo.

Using two years of the Adopt-a-Trout data and an instream flow study that TU conducted on Beaver Creek, a major tributary, we discovered that there was a push-up dam near the confluence to the Henry’s Fork that was not allowing fish passage for a critical part of the year. None of the students’ fish were able to pass that point during the summer months.

A push-up dam on Beaver Creek prevented fish movement from the Henry's Fork into the tributary. Hillary Walrath photo.

So, TU collaborated with the Lonetree Ranch to develop a fish-friendly diversion that would still allow them to receive their irrigation water, but would allow for fish passage during low flows. A head-gate was also installed so that they could turn the ditch off when they no longer needed to irrigate, leaving more water instream for the trout. Thanks to the funding provided by the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the project was able to be completed November 2016.

A new diversion and headgate was placed at the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Herny's Fork River allowing fish to access 6 miles of important headwaters. Hillary Walrath.

This is just the first of many projects that will be done along Beaver Creek to benefit native trout. Over the next year, the McKinnon students will be assisting with vegetation planting and monitoring on several sections right above the diversion to provide better cover and reduce stream temperatures during the summer months. Projects like these are not only reconnecting populations of native trout, but reconnecting kids to “their” fish and river.

Hillary Walrath is the Henry’s Fork Project Manager for Trout Unlimited in Wyoming.


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