Dedicated members of the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club arrived early on August 24th to a spot along Walker Lane just off 13th Avenue in Invermere near club member Buzz Harmsworths home.
The men, sporting plastic boots and work pants, got out of their vehicles, surveyed the portion of Abel Creek they had come to restore, and got to work.
Throughout the day, the club executed their Abel Creek Fishery Enhancement Project, which has been in the works for two years. The goal was to clear a half-century-old structure that was blocking the creek, which was impeding the ability of Kokanee salmon and Rainbow trout to use the entire length of the creek, which continues up alongside Johnson Road, effectively as a spawning ground.
(The barrier) was there before the Second World War, Mr. Harmsworth said. The shed on the property was occupied by a veteran from the war.
Currently, fish spawn below the barrier in the 885 metres of stream accessible to them, but they are blocked from accessing another 3,300 metres of usable habitat above the barrier.
According to club president Rick Hoar, removing the barrier will increase fish population.
Hopefully the Kokanee will come up past the old blockade, Mr. Hoar said. The Rainbow certainly will, because we have seen them at the edges of the site.
The fish have different preferences in terms of stream gradients. Kokanee are a low stream gradient fish, so they like the bottom end where it is nice and flat. Whether they want to go all the way along the creek or not, we will see, but we wanted to give them a chance.
Throughout the long day of work, the team was able to remove the barrier, thanks in part to funding from the Regional District of East Kootenays Kootenay Conservation Program ($5,000), and the Fisheries and Oceans Canadas Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program ($11,000).
Once we had the money, we had to get the water permits, which we finally received just a week ago, Mr. Hoar said. It all went together really well.
Mr. Hoar said a conservation project like this one was a no-brainer for his club to pursue.
Our mandate is to promote wildlife re-habitation and to maintain habitat quality, Hoar said. The club is 96 years old and we have won national awards for our projects over the years.
The conductor for the days work was Alan Bates, an engineer who specializes in hydrology, channel geomorphology and river-based projects. He said the Abel Creek Fishery Enhancement Project was aided by the natural conditions of the creek.
It came together better than expected because there is good material down below, Mr. Bates said. You never know what is there until you start digging, but it is cleaning up nicely. There is clean gravel and rock as opposed to old mucky stuff.
Using his best guess, Mr. Bates said the old barrier was probably an irrigation dam at some point.
Hopefully we are making things better than they were, he said. I am glad we could clean up and restore things to their natural state a bit.
For the Rod and Gun Club, the other important aspect of the project is education, which is an ongoing goal.
The school teachers normally bring all the little people and they go all the way down to the lake to see the fish, Mr. Harmsworth said. Since this is in place, they can now come up here for viewing and learning.
At the site of the old barrier, the club has erected a sign outlining the areas significance for Kokanee salmon and Rainbow trout. Mr. Hoar said the sign is just the first step of what he hopes to establish to share information about local wildlife and the importance of protecting the valleys ecosystem.
We always thought about creating educational signs right from the lake to Abel Creek, Mr. Hoar said. We think this is a part of teaching the whole green process of getting the creek back on track.
Mr. Hoar said he is extremely happy with the work that has been done, but he knows a project like this is never quite completed.
Next, we will put in some vegetation, he said. We will be seeding the ground in the fall, then we will just continue to monitor it.