Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Fight for Roaring Brook

Editor's note: Whether its fighting for hatcheries on the chopping block, historic homes facing demolition or precious natural spaces at risk of development, I'm all for taking a stand for what you believe in. That's why I'm happy to share the following piece form my friend Chad Wilde, who makes a heartfelt call-to-action to help protect a special blue line in Northeast Connecticut. 

According to Indian legend, brook trout were not always the speckled beauties we know today.  “Once, long, long ago,” said old Jesse Logan, of the Cornplanter Reservation in Warren County Pennsylvania, the last (in 1928) of the Shikellemus tribe, “when Manitou visited the land of the Iroquois to lead His lost children back to the Happy Hunting Ground in the Far East, He grew weak with hunger and cold on his long quest.  Toward night He stopped beside a pool in the Seneca country [New York] which was overshadowed by colossal white pines and hemlocks.  Noticing that it was full of handsome trout, as black as ebony, He reached in His hand and easily caught the largest of the superb fish.  Looking at it He was struck by its beauty and agile grace, and decided to control His hunger and let it live, so He dropped it back into the deep pool.

“The trout went its way, but instantly its sides took on a silvery hue where the fingers of the Great Spirit had held it, and all of its kind became marked with the same silvery sheen and many colored spots and halos, as a token of their having been handled by the kindly Manitou.  For that reason, the Seneca Indians and others of the Six Nations would not eat brook trout.  Brook trout were sacred to the highest instincts of their race.  But what the redman spared,” said Logan, “white men destroyed by the millions.”
                                                                                                                     ~From Nick Karas' book Brook Trout



As an angler, I have seen first hand what mans intrusion into our wild places can do to fish.  I have watched it with my own eyes.  Over the past 4 decades, if you looked in the right places, these subtle but nefarious changes were impossible to miss.  Today, we must protect what natural resources we still have.  One such resource in dire need of our stewardship is Roaring Brook in Willington Connecticut.

I grew up on a circle of tract housing laid into the side of Village Hill just upland from Roaring Brook.  I caught my first trout in our backyard.  It was a brook trout, and I caught it out of a drainage pipe.  This was sometime in the early eighties when I was a child.

There was a small stream that flowed into a culvert at the top of our road.  The water ran through a storm drain under the street to another culvert in front of my house where some of it spilled out.  From there this trickle flowed behind our home, through the woods, downhill and into Roaring Brook. 

My brother and I had been fishing with our father before.  I don’t recall how old we were but we were old enough to go out on rainy nights and harvest night crawlers to fish with.  I remember walking and exploring the stream and coming to small pools where the rocks were covered in green moss, in them we saw small fish dart about.  So quick, and then hidden.  Gone. 

We caught these fish, on bits of worm, cast up into the drainage pipe from the mouth of the small culvert.  We didn’t know what they were.  Naturally, we put them in a bucket with stream water.  When our father got home from work, he identified them as brook trout.  As we grew, we followed the stream down through the woods, it was a tributary of Roaring Brook.  When we were old enough to do so we rode our bikes to this slightly larger stream and spread our wings in exploration.

We would swim in the deep pools and explore the stone foundation of Eldredge Mills, a site recognized by the National Historical Register.  To this day you can see the great stone circle of its turbine pit, which I tell my children is a castle.  I show them the stone walled sluiceway that the early millers used to divert the water and power their saw and grist mills.  Above these links to our colonial past rise tall hemlock, oak and maple trees.  Below them flows Roaring Brook.



As a child my friends and I would find crayfish and hellgrammites below stones in the brook.  There were great mechanical looking stonefly nymphs that would leave their molted husks on the streamside rocks.  We found salamanders beneath moldering logs in the forest, their skin slick and their tiny hands so delicate.  There were brook and brown trout in the water.    

Most people don’t consider the link brook trout have to our heritage as New Englanders.  Brook trout are native to waters throughout New England.  This means that their lineage developed indigenously in the water that drains our region.  Their natural range encompassed a good portion of the eastern United States, extending from Canada to high mountain streams in northern Georgia and west to the Great Lakes basin.

This habitat range has been drastically reduced by mans infringement.  Brook trout require cold, clean, well oxygenated water to survive.  They require highly specific pristine habitat conditions.  These native fish developed in the place that was right for them and they were entrenched in these places long before European men set foot on North American soil.

Like brook trout, some people develop in the right place.  When it was time to buy a home with my wife and start a family I chose to do so in the neighborhood where I grew up, in Willington.  I was elated to do so.  I envisioned my children exploring the same watershed I did in my youth.  I was back on Roaring Brook, our home is less than a mile from its banks.


I consider this my home water.  Throughout my life, I’ve always lived around Northeastern Connecticut.  As an angler I have spent more time on Roaring Brook than any other stream.  I’ve always caught fish, and many wild fish.  I have walked and fished a good portion of the brook from its mouth at the Willimantic River in Willington to its headwaters in northwest Union.  Throughout its entire length it contains good trout habitat.

I know there are no more brook trout in the small stream that flowed behind my parents home.  There is sand and water grown too warm to support fish.  Sediment and warm water are lethal brook trout.  Sediment obscures their spawning gravel and chokes eggs.  Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen than cold water.  Luckily, Roaring Brook is still suitable to support wild fish. 

Not truly trout, brook trout are actually considered char.  Trout and char are both members of the Salmonidae genetic family, but only char are native to the Eastern seaboard of North America.  Char differ from trout in appearance in that they have lighter colored spots against a dark colored body where trout generally have darker spots against a light one.

Brook trout are gorgeous fish.  Their backs are shades of steel blue and olive, they have tan vermiculate patterns descending towards their flanks.  Their spots are yellow, and they also carry vivid red spots haloed by blue.  Their fins are tipped with white.  In autumn, when they prepare to spawn, the male bellies take on a deep orange hue. 



As I have fished roaring brook over the past decade I have caught wild brook and brown trout.  I always approach my angling here with trepidation.  I realize we stand at a pivotal point in our species development with regards to protection of our natural resources.  Each time I set foot on its banks, I hope deep in my heart that there are still trout swimming in the brook.  To this point, my hope has been confirmed by my catches and release of wild trout.

I am always relieved when I see one at the end of my line.  These aren’t huge fish.  A mature wild fish will often only be 6 to 8 inches long.  Coldwater fish are the litmus test of a New England stream.  Where they are found you will find clean water and a healthy natural environment.  Connecticut has classified Roaring Brook as a class 3 wild trout stream, meaning that there is natural reproduction occurring, and populations are supplemented by stocked adult and fry (infant) trout.

Roaring Brook’s habitat is currently threatened by a proposal by Love’s Travel Stop to build a truck stop and restaurant off of exit 71 westbound on route 84.  This facility will be 40 acres and will cover parts of roaring brook and two crucial wetlands that drain directly into its water. 

In 2012 Love’s received approval from the Willington Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission to develop land off Polester Road.  In 2013 they were granted additional approval from Willington’s Planning and Zoning Commission with certain conditions applied.

At that time, senior fisheries biologist Brian Murphy of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s assessed and documented the proposed building site.  What he found was a site bordering a brook that is deeply shaded by thick woodland, helping to keep the water cool for trout to live in.  He saw cobbled gravel on the streambed, creating a place for trout to spawn.  He found riffles and runs that tumbled the water, creating oxygen and places where trout could feed.  He found woody debris and boulders, hiding places, what is known as a micro-habitat where juvenile trout make their homes and where insects provide forage. 

In essence he found the heart of my home water, a nice healthy little trout stream.



Murphy observed 2 wetlands that directly fed Roaring Brook.  In one of them, he found yearling brook trout.  This indicated that in the fall of 2012 brook trout had successfully spawned in the wetland channel.  Brook trout eggs are laid in fall.  They incubate until early spring when they hatch.  The fry emerge from their gravel beds and seek out microenvironments to live and grow in.  Wetlands are crucial to trout streams.  They provide spring water, which is cool, clean and well oxygenated.  They provide nurseries for trout. 

The project as proposed by Love’s Travel Stop will amount to a 40 acre development within a stones throw of this delicate ecosystem.  Any habitats health is directly tied to that of its immediate surroundings.  Symbiotic relationships develop between waterways and surrounding areas.  A riparian habitat refers to the buffer zone between any open water and upland areas.  These areas act as filters where vegetation absorbs pollutants and sediment.  They also prevent erosion, and offer shade to the waterways they protect.  This will be compromised by the truck stop.

Love’s proposal will damage this environment through the removal of forest, disturbance of soil, and creation of runoff into the brook.  Runoff from rainwater that falls on asphalt is warm.  It collects gasoline, oil, heavy metals, road salt and silt.  All of these harmful substances will find their way from the proposed truck stop into Roaring Brook.  This will damage the health of the stream. 

The proposed development features construction of a leaching field capable of handling 6,000 gallons per day of wastewater.  This leaching field will be roughly 120 feet from the wetland where Mr. Murphy observed wild brook trout in 2013.  The actual construction of the leaching field will bring development to within twenty feet of the wetland.  It is difficult under any circumstances to believe that measurable damage will not be done to this watershed, my home watershed.  This septic system will adversely affect the water quality of Roaring Brook.



I understand that the town of Willington will benefit from the increased tax revenue that this project will generate, however I cannot support it in light of what it will do to a pristine brook.  I have walked all my life below the forest canopy that shades this brook.  My family and I swim in its cool waters in the height of summer and I have fished it successfully in January snowstorms.  We must protect what native fish remain in our world.  Doing so is the golden rule embodied, doing to others what you would have done to yourself. 

I showed my daughter Marin her first brook trout from Roaring Brook in 2017.  I was thrilled I had caught it since I had again confirmed some few still lived called the brook home.  It was some ancestor of the trout my brother and I had found in a drain pipe all those years before.  This thought struck me: in a drainpipe.  There once were so many trout in these parts that they had permeated the very sewers below our feet.  And now I am thrilled to know that even one still lives in the watershed I so dearly love.

A shadow passed my face when I thought about the now vacant stream where I had caught those first brook trout behind my parent’s house.  It is my hope that my daughter will be able to show her own children some progeny of that fish I showed her, when she was 3 years old.  She will only be able to do this if we fiercely protect this resource.

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains.  You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow.  They smelled of moss in your hand.  Polished and muscular and torsional.  On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.  Maps and mazes.  Of a thing which could not be put back.  Not be made right again.  In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
                                                                                                        ~From Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road


Please consider standing with me against the damage this project will cause Roaring Brook.

You can help support Roaring Brook by signing the petition to stop the proposed development of Love’s Travel Stop found here.

You can also write directly to the DEEP Hearing Officer to voice your concern: deep.adjudications@ct.gov

There is a public site walk on Monday April 23rd at 10 a.m. taking place at the Polester Road development site.

There will be a public hearing held on Tuesday April 24th at the Willington Public Library.  Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for discussion with a formal presentation to begin at 6:00 p.m.

Lastly, follow Nectar Community on Facebook to stay in the loop about the fight for Roaring Brook and other things happening in eastern CT.


1 comment:

  1. Nice post and background, Chad. I did sign the petition, but lordy, I really hate change.org and its tactics. Hope this helps in a small way.

    ReplyDelete