Chet Greason, email@example.com
20 years ago, members of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) approached Wayne and Marina Schmidt about improving green space on their Gads Hill farm. They agreed, and later that year their daughter and her classmates helped to plant 1,200 trees in a former pasture located beside the Schoolhouse Drain, a tributary which passes through the Schmidt property and eventually drains into the Avon River.
That former pasture is now home to a small bush of fully grown trees, a site marked as a project by the Upper Avon River Conservation Club. The woodlot provides stream shading, acts as a field windbreaker, and prevents stream bank erosion. It's also a wildlife corridor that promotes biodiversity.
"As farmers, you realize you're existing with nature," explains Marina of her original motivation to participate in the project, which included the cleaning up and monitoring of the waterway over the years to the point that it can now support more naturally-found wildlife species.
"My husband would swim and fish in that water (when he was young), but that wasn't the case when we were farming here due to practices of the day."
Those practices, which would see pasture run-off and other byproducts drain into area waterways, have been largely stemmed in many areas. As a result, waterways like the Schoolhouse Drain run a lot healthier than they did 20 years ago.
To mark the anniversary of the project, UTRCA returned to the Schmidt farm this morning to reintroduce 500 tiny brook trout to the Schoolhouse Drain in hopes that they may proliferate and repopulate area streams and rivers.
Aquatic biologist John Schwindt was there testing the river for bugs to ensure the creek would make a healthy habitat for the new fish. He explains that you can tell a lot about how clean a given water system is by the kinds of bugs that inhabit it. Certain bugs are more sensitive to environment than other tougher species that can live in more polluted waters.
"This stream has more of the sensitive bugs than most," he said.
It's these bugs that the brook trout will feed on. Raised in a hatchery near Komoka, Ontario, the fish were released in large numbers in the hope that a few of them will survive to adulthood so they can begin reproducing.
Schwindt says it may be two or three years before local anglers can expect to pull full grown brook trout out of Avon River tributaries (although these full grown brook trout are only expected to grow to a length of 6 to 8 inches). Schwindt adds that he doesn't want to encourage anglers to pull the trout out right away.
"We want these guys to be established before they become dinner," he said.
Some local families showed up to help UTRCA employees release the fish. Youngsters hauled bags of trout from the backs of trucks and sat patiently while the bags bobbed in the creek, conditioning the temperature of the water inside so as not to shock the fish.
Marina Schmidt calls the 20-year project a community effort; neighbours helping neighbours to help improve the landscape "…so our kids can learn about environmental initiatives.
"Water from this creek runs all the way to Lake St. Clair and beyond," she said, noting the Schoolhouse Drain begins right across the road from her property. "You realize that water here impacts so much else."