Skunk cabbage lines the brook in early spring.
The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a member of the char family, a group that includes arctic char, Dolly Varden, lake trout, and bull trout. Brookies naturally inhabit the east coast of North America, from Labrador to Georgia, and west to the Great Lakes region.
Ohio is a flat midwestern state known more for its corn than its trout. But in the northeast corner of Ohio, amid sprawling suburban malls and freeway interchanges, a few native brookies are hanging on precariously to their ancestral home: a tiny spring-fed creek known as Spring Brook. Naturalist William Hudson was a key player in protecting the Spring Brook watershed and its threatened brook trout, which have been shown to be an ancient, genetically unique race.
Native brook trout were never plentiful in Ohio, says Bill, and were thought to have disappeared by 1900, when farming and industry cleared away vegetation and choked streams with silt. In the 1990s, however, reproducing populations were discovered in Spring Brook and Woodiebrook, two very small, spring-fed tributaries of the Chagrin River. Testing confirmed that these populations comprised a pure and genetically distinct race, which had been evolving in isolation for at least 10,000 years.
When suburban development destroyed Woodiebrook, a partnership of private and government conservation groups came together to purchase and protect the Spring Brook watershed and set it aside as a scientific reserve. Although cold, clean streams are rare in Ohio, efforts are underway to establish breeding populations of this unique strain in other suitable habitats. Chagrin River Land Conservancy, a local land trust, has purchased residential land and begun the restoration of Woodiebrook, in hopes of returning the native brookies to their ancestral home.
Text and images ©2001 by Stuart Helmintoller @Streamside.
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