The Piedmont Environmental Council and Virginia Department of Transportation are collaborating to reconnect brook trout habitat and improve flood resiliency and public road-stream crossings in two more locations in Rappahannock County.
This past month, the PEC received a $199,057 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund to partner with VDOT on two pilot fish passage and flood resiliency projects near Sperryville and Chester Gap.
The projects will replace culverts with open-span structures at crossings over two headwater streams at Piney River (Route 653/Sycamore Ridge Rd. near Sperryville) and Bolton Branch (Route 631/Mill Hill Rd. near Huntly).
“Both streams are classified Class II Wild Trout Streams by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and have intact yet fragmented brook trout populations,” notes Claire Catlett, Rappahannock Field Representative for the PEC.
Headwater streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains form rare intact habitat for the American eel and Eastern Brook Trout, Virginia’s state fish, according to Paula Combs, the PEC’s Senior Editor.
However, a 2014 survey by PEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found restrictive culverts to be a key limiting factor in restoring Eastern Brook Trout populations in this county and elsewhere in the Piedmont.
Restrictive culverts are also much more vulnerable to intense storms, causing road closures, property damage and flooding. By opening the streambed to its natural width, the new open-span structures will be much more resilient in the face of intense weather events, improving safety for travelers and saving taxpayers money.
Catlett says the projects in Sperryville and Chester Gap will take place this year.
A little over a year ago, the PEC celebrated the completion of the Sprucepine Branch restoration project, also near Huntly, with partners and local residents. That effort was one of the first of its kind in Virginia’s Piedmont.
“I really applaud the Piedmont Environmental Council’s leadership and vision in working with other partners and private landowners to restore critical native brook trout habitat. PEC has been a pleasure to work with in every way, and this has been a great project,” said Jim Northup, a neighbor of Sprucepine Branch who is the former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park.
The work at Sprucepine Branch reconnected two miles of stream habitat, as a set of culverts were removed from a private driveway and replaced with a bridge. The project included natural channel design and construction, which was completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Shenandoah Streamworks. The work included re-grading stream banks and in-stream structures that restored the natural hydrology of those streams.
According to the state fish and game department, over 400 streams or portions of streams in Virginia contain brook trout. Many of the streams and ponds in adjacent Shenandoah National Park and nearby George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have “native” brook trout.
“VDOT believes collaboration with local partners like PEC will improve resiliency and community engagement and establish a model that can be replicated throughout Virginia,” says Garrett Moore, chief engineer of VDOT.
The DGIF will also be working with VDOT, PEC and other partners to develop a collaborative partnership that will create a strategy for stream restoration and aquatic organism passage here and beyond.
“We are excited to work with VDOT on this initiative, creating more resilient road crossings, reducing flood damage and opening miles of stream previously inaccessible to fish,” says Catlett.