Local Trout in the Classroom team honored

By Jeff Nations

Mark Zimmerman may just be the best friend a Brook trout could hope to find in the Shenandoah Valley.

Zimmerman, who heads up the Winchester Trout Unlimited’s indefatigable Trout in the Classroom (TIC) team, said the primary goal in all their efforts is to educate the future generations about this native coldwater fish. Helping replenish and hopefully reestablish Brook trout is a secondary, albeit positive, result of the hours of work Zimmerman and his assistants Carl Rettenberger and Dan Brakensiek have put in since getting the program off and running in 2007.

“I’d say 85 percent of the goal is education,” said Zimmerman, a Frederick County resident. “That’s our main goal with this program is to give the kids the opportunity to learn about Brook trout, whether it’s learning about their life cycle or doing chemistry or math, or even studying the physiological aspects. Then there’s the whole environmental sciences component. It’s a fantastic educational supplement.”

The Winchester TIC team was recently recognized for their efforts by the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, earning the annual Youth Education Award. Zimmerman’s team ranges far and wide to provide support for tanks set up in classrooms as far south as Woodstock and up north into West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. In all, the Winchester TIC has 20 coldwater tanks operating from early October, when they receive the Brookie eggs from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ (VDGIF) Paint Bank Fish Hatchery until the release days in early May into a section of Frederick County’s Redbud Run. Zimmerman and his team stay involved throughout the process, providing training to teachers, settting up tanks, trouble-shooting and emergency repairs, and finally coordinating a mass release in the spring.

“The biggest chunk of our time is in the beginning and in the end,” Zimmerman said. “The month of September is very busy for us. We go into each school and get everything set up, get all the components running to give the tanks a chance to acclimatize and chill down.”

Zimmerman got the Winchester TIC effort going by successfully applying for a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund in 2007. Since then, participation among area schools has steadily grown and more are hoping to join the effort soon. Zimmerman said his team has gotten two more grants from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund since that initial seed money, and also gets some financial assistance from the Winchester Trout Unlimited chapter and a few donations from the community. Some schools even bought their own equipment.

“We’re close to the top,” Zimmerman said of expanding the program further. “There’s only the three of us, and I don’t think we can do a whole lot more. We may expand by one or two more next year.”

Zimmerman said there is no restriction on grade level for the classrooms the Winchester TIC places tanks in each year — they also have a tank at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester — but the younger the students, the more day-to-day maintenance the teachers must perform to keep the fry healthy.

By the time the Brookies — now fingerlings — are ready for release in the spring, they measure anywhere from 2 to 4 ½ inches long. Zimmerman said the Winchester TIC program has released anywhere from 750 to 1,000 young Brook trout into Redbud Run annually for the past few years. He said the group doesn’t know how many of the fingerlings survive to maturity, but thinks the efforts of teachers and students participating in the program is having a positive impact.

“A hundred years ago, Redbud Run had a native Brooke trout population,” Zimmerman said. “We’re hoping that through stocking, we might be able to establish a reproducing population in Redbud Run again.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>