Located near Stroudsburg, Pa., the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge sits partially on land that in a previous time had a very different use.
The refuge was once a golf course.
These days, the manicured fairways, perfectly trimmed greens and gaping sand traps have been replaced by wetlands, rolling hills of native shrubs, trees and grasses that are home to a variety of terrestrial creatures, including the federally threatened bog turtle.
The property was acquired in 2008 and has grown to a total of 4,350 acres with the acquisition of 2,619 acres acquired by the Conservation Fund in June of 2019 and recently conveyed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge has been acquired through funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, along with several other sources.
The refuge has become popular for hiking — it includes 5 miles of the Appalachian Trail — cross country skiing, wildlife viewing and specially permitted hunting on a portion of the refuge.
Soon, thanks in part to the efforts of the Brodhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited, trout fishing will be another activity for visitors to enjoy.
Starting in 2016, the chapter has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve a 3,000-foot stretch of Cherry Creek, which runs through the property.
“It is unique stream for Monroe County,” said Eric Baird, the chapter’s president. “Most of our streams are freestone, but this is one of the few with a limestone spring component.
Baird’s first hint at the stream’s potential actually came years ago, when he was pursuing a master’s degree in biology and traveled with fellow students for a lesson on how to use electroshocking gear to sample streams.
The team shocked up a handful of wild brown trout from a section of the creek upstream from what was then the Cherry Valley Golf Course.
“We didn’t get a lot of fish, but the quality was good,” Baird said. “I’ll never forget probing under a root wad and an 18-inch brown trout just came flying out.
Since the stream restoration project began, the Brodhead Chapter has invested more than 550 volunteer hours to enhance habitat both in and along the stream, which was devoid of much cover in the water and along the shoreline.
An $8,500 Embrace A Stream grant provided seed money for the project, with that investment leveraged by a large commitment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“They have done a lot of the heavy lifting with their equipment,” said Baird, adding that the agency’s in-kind contribution has been worth $65,000.
The project is also serving as something of a testing ground for different types of restoration practices.
“When we designed it we tried to include every feature included in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s stream restoration handbook,” Baird said.
The site is also being utilized as a release site for local Trout in the Classroom programs, and two Mayfly sensor stations have been installed to constantly monitor the stream.
Baird said fish population monitoring efforts have shown that Cherry Creek’s browns are responding well to the improved habitat. Numbers are still modest, but fish size is impressive, with an average size in the 14-inch range.
The stream is not open to public fishing while a permit system that will allow a limited number of anglers daily is being developed.
When that day comes it will represent another example of how the National Wildlife Refuge program offers a wide variety of public recreation opportunities in every state in the nation.