IN WESTERN WISCONSIN – In the 100 years that John Phillipps’ family has owned land along Parker Creek, perhaps never have so many unrelated people been on his property cutting, chopping and pulling buckthorn and box elder trees.
But there they were last Saturday, 18 laborers in all, flanking the pretty creek while wielding chain saws and stacking cut brush to be burned at a later time.
Members of the Kiap-TU-Wish Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the interlopers on Phillipps’ land were donating time and energy to clear Parker Creek’s stream banks, aiding angler access while also benefiting the creek’s brown and brook trout.
The creek’s maintenance effort followed transformational habitat work initiated by Kiap-TU-Wish members a dozen years ago, when they and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers narrowed and resloped its stream banks.
“Our chapter had 32 workdays last year,’’ said Randy Arnold, 66, of Minnetonka, the chapter’s volunteer coordinator. “Most of these ‘brushing’ days occur on Saturdays. But during summers, when the DNR comes in to reseed stream banks, we’ll work on weekdays, too.’’
Headquartered in Hudson, Wis., with about 70 percent of its 380 members hailing from the Badger state and the remainder from Minnesota, the Kiap-TU-Wish chapter is a model of conservation volunteerism.
Last year alone its members tallied more than 5,000 hours teaching schoolkids about the importance of cold-water conservation; helping fisheries managers inventory stream-trout populations; monitoring water quality; and getting their hands dirty reinvigorating streams, rivers and creeks.
They also raise money — some $4.5 million for trout habitat development and cold-water education since 2002.
“Our members really enjoy volunteering, and seem to especially enjoy our workdays,’’ said chapter president Scott Wagner of Hudson. “I’m a banker, and in my trade you get involved with a lot of civic organizations whose leadership tends to burn out every few years. Not so with Kiap-TU-Wish. Our members volunteer because they really believe in cold-water conservation and because they love sharing their passion for trout and trout fishing.’’
Working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in its selection of stream rehabilitation sites, Kiap-TU-Wish members recognize that the Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers are the region’s most popular trout-fishing destinations.
They’ve done work on both. But the vitality of those rivers is directly related to the water quality of their tributaries. Which is why Parker Creek and streams like it are selected for makeovers.
“The DNR has a priority list of streams and rivers that, even taking into account global warming, we know will be viable for the next 20 to 30 years,’’ said Arnold, a medical device engineer. “Typically for habitat work we target the headwaters of those streams.’’
A tributary of the storied Kinnickinnic, which bisects hill and dale in western Wisconsin before meandering through River Falls, Wis., and eventually emptying into the St. Croix River, Parker Creek in its heyday was a trout haven.
But until a dozen years ago, when Kiap-TU-Wish members and the Wisconsin DNR resloped its stream banks, increasing its velocity while deepening and cooling it, Parker Creek had grown too wide, warm and slow to foster the cold, clear water trout relish.
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Growing up in Monticello, just northwest of the Twin Cities, Arnold as a kid learned to fly cast for panfish and bass in the Mississippi River. He first sought trout in western Wisconsin streams about 25 years ago, and soon thereafter joined the Kiap-TU-Wish chapter.
“I could have joined the Twin Cities Trout Unlimited chapter, which also does good work. But I wanted to join the chapter that works on streams where I fished,’’ Arnold said.
Now, ironically, he spends more time — much more — doing volunteer habitat work than he does fishing.
Joining Kiap-TU-Wish members last week on Parker Creek was Jeff Jackson, an agriculture runoff specialist with the Wisconsin DNR.
“I do inspections on farms and on manure spreadings, looking for runoff,’’ Jackson said. “Attending workdays like this, which I enjoy doing, keeps me grounded in terms of what we’re actually trying to protect, which is water.’’
Kiap-TU-Wish devotees span all occupations and ages. Last year, an 85-year-old member joined the fun on Saturday brushing days. Younger members, like Wagner, just 59, must wear business suits all week before changing to work clothes and wielding a chain saw on Saturdays.
“I’ve always enjoyed hunting and fishing,’’ Wagner said. “But I didn’t take up fly fishing until I had a life-or-death bout with cancer in 2011. As I started to recover, and wasn’t sure how long I would live, I took it up because fly fishing was always something I wanted to do. Fortunately, our members are very generous with their time and advice. I owe a lot to them for getting me started.’’
Standing alongside Parker Creek last Saturday, Phillipps, the landowner, said he grew up fishing the pretty waterway. But beavers moved in years ago and changed its configuration, and its stream banks grew over with unwanted brush and trees.
Then Kiap-TU-Wish Trout Unlimited members showed up with chain saws and other tools, he said, and Parker Creek was reborn.
For more information go online to kiaptuwish.org.