Hope and resilience.
Those were the two words that stuck with me as I walked the miles-long trail with Chris Henrickson, the chapter president of the East Jersey chapter of TU.
Eventually, we made our way to a small deteriorating dam. Behind the dam, water collects into a small reservoir, where it warms up under the sun, and eventually flows downstream. This warm water threatens the last native brook trout stream in Bergen County, N.J. — a few miles from where I grew up.
About this dam: It’s on state land. It was built to provide recreation for a community that no longer exists. An official dam inspection report (from 1994!) describes the dam as a “hazard,” “unstable,” “severely deteriorated,” and in an “unsafe condition.”
For several miles below the dam flows a sweet little native brook trout stream. As I drove away from the creek, I saw the skyline of Manhattan in the not-too-far distance. Imagine that, a native brook trout stream within sight of New York City.
“Why is this dam here?” Henrickson asks me. “It literally serves no purpose and would not be expensive to take out.” In January, Chris wrote a letter to the state, along with dozens of other conservation organizations in New Jersey. The letter asks the state to remove this deadbeat dam.
One of my favorite memories of my time with Trout Unlimited was when several of the great volunteers in New Jersey took me on a tour. They were trying to convince the national organization to make the Musconetcong River the site of a TU Home Rivers Initiative (which we did). We stopped at a small tributary. Along one side was an interstate highway, along the other a railroad grade. We had to walk over an illegal dump site filled with old drywall, tires and other garbage. An illegal ATV trail bisected the creek.
We got to the edge of the water, and Pat, the biologist from the state of New Jersey, pointed to some upstream watercress.
“See the fish swimming under the watercress?” he asked me. “Those are brook trout. I fin clipped them. Heritage strain. They have been here for millennia.”
New Jersey is the most urban state in the nation. I grew up in the Garden State and did not pick up the conservation bug until I left, but the state is one of the most protective of native trout. They do not stock brook trout, and in fully one-third of the state—essentially everywhere wild brook trout persist—you must immediately release a brook trout if you catch one.
Native brook trout within sight of Manhattan. And, one of the most urban chapters in the nation doing all it can to ensure their future. The resilience of these remarkable fish is outdone only by the amazing grit, pluck and, ultimately, hope of the people of NJTU to ensure their future.