Josh White, landowner engagement coordinator with the Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited program and Megan Lalli, a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority restoration technician, discuss where to plant trees and shrubs at a Hollow Road property. VOICE FILE

Trout Unlimited program plants and educates

Ken Eller has a special affinity for Twelve Mile Creek.

“I am a local boy. I grew up near Decew Falls and this was my fishing area. I am 74 now and you can imagine when we were about eight, we would ride our bikes up here and we would fish,” he said.

That catch and release pastime continued into his adult years.

“I am a fly fisherman and I would fish it right through [Hollow Road] to the Shorthills down to Decew Falls but we haven’t seen fish here for 20 to 25 years. That corner right there used to be fabulous for little brookies.”

But due to climate change and human activity, things have changed.

“A few years ago, the fish died off and that’s when the government took notice that something should be done and this is part of it,” Eller said.

The “this” referred to by Eller is the Bring Back the Brookies program, which is a learning and restoration program focused on preserving and protecting aquatic habitat in Upper Twelve Mile Creek. The Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited program is supported by the Great Lakes Local Action Fund, OPG, Walker Industries and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

This past Saturday, Eller’s Hollow Road property was the site of an event where participants learned about biodiversity and stream dynamics and then planted trees to increase the forest canopy and help mitigate climate change impacts on the watershed.

Among the ten trees and 20 shrubs planted Saturday were white cedar, tulip, pin oak and bitternut hickory trees, and shrubs such as meadow sweet, high bush cranberry, nannyberry, ninebark, elderberry, cone flowers, milkweed and asters.

Interest has been strong with 230 registrants from local schools, scout troops and nature clubs

“They are species native to this area and we go to local nurseries to source them,” said Megan Lalli, an NPCA restoration technician.

The work is an extension of what Eller has been doing for years.

“We have been here for 40 years and we have looked after the property in the best way that we can. The stream is so important to us,” he said. “You can’t see the stream and we have tailored things away from it since the day we moved here. We take pretty good care of it. With having Trout Unlimited, the conservation authority and all the volunteers involved, it has been fabulous.”

Eller is looking forward to the day when the Brookies return to the creek.

“I am planning to be a 100,” he said with a laugh. “The next generation who gets this house when we are finished with it I am hopeful they will have that.”

Eller feels it is important to rehabilitate the creek and its watershed.

“I have seen what public use of the Short Hills has done so if we can do our little bit and if all the families along this road did likewise, this would be a thriving place for generations to come for fishing, hiking and stuff like that.”

And while Eller has not seen fish in the creek for a long time, eDNA testing, a technology that samples water within a test site, has determined the presence of brook trout in the St. Johns Branch of Twelve Mile Creek.

Last Saturday’s tree planting was one of 14 events staged in October by Trout Unlimited.

“Interest has been strong with 230 registrants from local schools, scout troops and nature clubs,” said Kerry Kennedy, Trout Unlimited’s project coordinator. “Each event begins with some fun opportunities to learn about the life of a Brookie, its habitat and the threats to this extraordinary resource we share. Customized frisbees are even in the mix of learning activities.”

Trout Unlimited Canada’s Niagara chapter has been around for more than a decade and its mission is to conserve, protect and restore the Niagara region’s freshwater ecosystems and its cold water resources for current and future generations.

Twelve Mile Creek, Niagara’s only remaining cold water, ground water fed stream, is near and dear to Trout Unlimited. All of the group’s projects are focused in the upper creek area and the tributaries located in Pelham and Thorold.

“The goal is to protect and restore this ecosystem and the biodiversity that exists within it,” Kennedy said. “Trout Unlimited is about conservation as opposed to angling. We are taking small steps along the way and trying to raise awareness.”