Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Working for trout in West Virginia

By Jessica Bryzek

I recently started working with Trout Unlimited as the West Virginia Volunteer Water Quality and Stream Restoration Coordinator.

Out of all the places I have worked, I have never felt so spoiled as I do here in Thomas, West Virginia. Surrounded by

miles of primitive trails, wild mountain streams, and blue forests, I often find myself backpacking, trail running, and reading non-fiction books to feel connected with the untamed territory that surrounds me.

This past May, I graduated from Ball State University with a B.S. degree in Biology and two minors in Spanish and Public Health.

Throughout college I became fascinated with how seemingly invisible water quality parameters could dictate the presence of aquatic life. From the rugged Adirondack Mountains of New York, to the mid-western cornfields of Indiana, and even the serene north woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota, I have worked a variety of seasonal positions that have introduced me to the captivating underwater world of freshwater mussels, benthic invertebrates, and aquatic macrophytes.

Whether the trail parallels a river, or the book describes a whitewater rafting trip, I always find myself closely entangled with a river. Rivers can be great teachers, and I believe that our life cycle and the water cycle are vastly intertwined, representing a unique natural connection between humans and their environment.

By definition, a river only stays the same by changing what it contains. The constant riffle-run-pool of the flow keeps the river alive and maintains its sense of purpose. I believe that this lesson from the river applies to our own life, and we should seek out new experiences to continue our personal growth.

Not only can rivers teach us valuable lessons, but I feel a strong spiritual connection to brook trout.

These colorful, wild creatures call the most untouched, remote places home; the same places that I often find myself most comfortable in.

The decline of brook trout in their native range should serve as a warning for the quality of our waterways and our land. We must protect our biological and spiritual connection to other life forms on this planet, and most importantly the special streams that brook trout call home.

I look forward to working holistically to conserve, enhance, and restore the cold, clean flowing waters of brook trout habitat by encouraging partnerships and increasing public awareness.

I am serving as an AmeriCorps member for the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (AFHA). The AFHA program combines Appalachian forest history, culture, and natural resources to promote economic and community development.

I was immediately drawn to the AFHA AmeriCorps program because of its unique approach to combine conservation and community heritage to preserve the exceptionally wild forests, mountains, and streams of West Virginia.

From the smallest tributary, to larger rivers and streams, I look forward to bringing a science based, watershed scale management approach to the AFHA conservation program in West Virginia. I am excited to engage the community through riparian restoration and citizen science programs, as well as participate in environmental stewardship and stream restoration events.

Come join me and TU this year as we dive into conversation efforts focused on restoring the clean, cold water of the Potomac.

A native of Indiana, Jessica Bryzek grew up in the abundant cornfields and pancake flat landscape of the mid-western state, but has always felt a call to the mountains, forests, and rivers of a more untamed region.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.