Moore’s Creek State Forest straddles a 2,300-acre expanse of rugged and scenic mountains in the Allegheny Highlands of Rockbridge County, Virginia. The forest was established in 2012 in part as a result of then-Governor Tim Kaine’s endeavor to place 400,000 acres of the Commonwealth into permanent conservation. Establishing the forest achieved a long-term goal for the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council to guarantee continued public access for recreation for this former City of Lexington property.
While the new forest was beautiful, it was far from pristine. During the city’s long ownership, logging contracts had been let over a span of decades. Some of the earlier timber harvests had exacted a toll on Moore’s Creek, the main feeder tributary to Moore’s Creek Reservoir.
The 40-acre reservoir, also known as Lexington Reservoir, has been stocked since the late 1980s with subadult brook trout by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). The goal was to create a “put-grow-and-take” recreational fishery. To the delight of backcountry anglers, reaching the secluded, high elevation lake requires a hike of more than two miles.
Its principle feeder stream, Moore’s Creek, attracted scientific interest in early 2000s when Washington & Lee University Professor Robert Humston began a series of field investigations into brook trout populations in several high-country reservoirs in the ridge and valley province of western Virginia. His work, reported in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, focused on interactions between wild strains of native brook trout in streams above reservoirs and domesticated strains of brook trout stocked into the reservoirs below.
Moore’s Creek Reservoir was suggested by VDGIF because its headwaters were not known to harbor any remnant populations of wild trout — though doubtless, the creek once did support them.
Humston and his field crew discovered numerous trout in Moore’s Creek. Subsequent genetic testing confirmed they were identical to the strain stocked in the reservoir.
On a subsequent hike to the new state forest in autumn 2012, under the sponsorship of the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, Humston and fellow hiker Michael Smith could find no signs of trout anywhere in the small stream. Thus was born the idea of a stream improvement project to provide better trout habitat by creating permanent pools that could sustain brook trout from the cold of winter through the heat of summer.
They would need partners. They found them in Virginia Department of Forestry; Virginia Military Institute’s Fishing Club; Washington & Lee University Fly Fishers; and Trout Unlimited, through its Skyline Chapter and 5 Rivers college youth program. After more than three years of discussion, planning, and evaluation, the partners deployed to Moore’s Creek on Saturday, April 2, 2016.
The crew was able to establish 14 in-stream structures that day. But by no means was this a case of “one and done.” The monitoring of Moore’s Creek continues, and future field operations to fine-tune the “mending” are a certainty.
This video captures highlights of that day.
This article was written by Michael Lawler Smith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Retired, who also captured the raw video footage of the restoration efforts, produced by The Downstream Project.