Students Helping To Restore Stream

Hard lives, hard work yield life lessons for volunteer crew on Tonto Creek


Getting a log to Tonto Creek to help create pools for trout habitat is half the battle as these American Conservation Experience volunteers are finding out. In the back row from left to right are: Tyler Lombardo and Tyler Oesterreich; front row: Chris Paton, from Scotland; Tom Owens, from England; Eva Tegenbos, from Belgium; Stefan Bandertuyn, from Holland; James Kamp, Brent Lehman and Adam Scherm, American Conservation Experience director.

Getting a log to Tonto Creek to help create pools for trout habitat is half the battle as these American Conservation Experience volunteers are finding out. In the back row from left to right are: Tyler Lombardo and Tyler Oesterreich; front row: Chris Paton, from Scotland; Tom Owens, from England; Eva Tegenbos, from Belgium; Stefan Bandertuyn, from Holland; James Kamp, Brent Lehman and Adam Scherm, American Conservation Experience director. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Half a dozen kids with hard lives spent a cold day doing hard work — all to gladden the hearts of trout they’ve never met.

And the trout might like to thank them — except there’s a catch.

The volunteer work crew doing a community service project for a class at the Payson Education Center this week pulled on waders, grabbed shovels and pry bars and pitched in to contribute to an ambitious effort to use logs and boulders to restore dozens of deep, trout-friendly pools along the upper reaches of Tonto Creek.

“They’re just awesome workers,” marveled Dennis Pirch, who teaches at the alternative high school run by Gila County Schools Superintendent Linda O’dell.

Many of the students at the alternative school have had their share of troubles and hard knocks, said Pirch, but they took to the

tough work of hauling rocks, dirt and logs like, well, fish to water.

“They were in the ice cold water in their waders with pry bars, moving big boulders. Just charging right in,” said Pirch, a retired Payson High School wrestling coach and social studies teacher who works part time at the alternative school.

The team played a small role in an ambitious three-week project to restore Tonto Creek, one of the most popular fishing spots in the state and therefore key to Rim Country’s tourist economy.

The spring that feeds Tonto Creek also sustains an Arizona Game and Fish hatchery that provides the rainbow trout used to stock all the major lakes and streams in Rim Country all summer long.

However, many of the deep natural pools crucial to trout created by trees, rocks and roots were washed away several years ago when forest fires along the Mogollon Rim denuded the slopes and sent muddy torrents of floodwaters rampaging down the creek bed.

Now, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service have teamed up to use natural materials to create as many deep pools as possible along the length of the creek, places where the stocked trout can rest, feed and hide.

The resulting changes should dramatically improve the fishing along the creek, said Pirch.

The hours of toil making the world safe for trout convinced some of the kids to take up fishing, said Pirch — and at least one to declare he wants to be a forest ranger.

So like we said. No doubt, the trout will love their new pools — built with sweat and toil.

But then, the hapless rainbows might find those same pool builders on the bank this summer, with pole in hand.

Like we said: Seems like there’s always a catch.

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