CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now it's up to nature.
After 13 months of digging, piling up rocks and painstakingly placing sunken logs, workers are just about finished with a $5 million effort to restore good brook-trout fishing to West Virginia's upper Shavers Fork.
"We'll know after we get some high water whether the work we did is doing what we wanted it to do," said Danny Bennett, the Division of Natural Resources' stream-restoration coordinator. "Our goal was to reproduce a semblance of the stream as it was at one time."
The "at one time" Bennett referred to was the late 1800s, before the Shavers Fork watershed was shorn of its timber for the first time. Back then the river flowed narrow, deep and cold, and brook trout thrived in its depths.
Conditions degenerated quickly after the lumbermen came. Logging crews floated huge rafts of logs down the river, and the rafts bulldozed rocks out of the riverbed and left the stream wide, shallow, flat and featureless. Without trees to shade it, the segment of Shavers upstream from Cheat Bridge became too warm to support temperature-sensitive brook trout.
Fisheries officials tried to replace the brookies by stocking rainbow and brown trout, both of which can tolerate higher temperatures. The stockings never took hold, though, mainly because the stream bottom had been so badly ravaged.
"The stream had a couple of major problems," explained Steve Brown, the senior DNR planner who spearheaded the restoration project. "It had no depth and it had very few large rocks and logs to hide fish and give them relief from the river's current."
DNR officials wanted to restore the river, but hadn't enough money to begin until former U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan earmarked $2.25 million for the effort. The grant, along with $100,000 from the Eastern Brook Trout Venture, allowed the agency to get started on Shavers by reestablishing easy fish passage between two brook-trout feeder streams and the river's main stem.
At about that same time, the Tygart Valley Conservation District, through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, was building a dam on Elkwater Fork of the Tygart River. The project's parameters required conservation district officials to mitigate the loss of the once free-flowing stream by doing watershed-restoration work elsewhere.
DNR officials approached the involved parties and suggested the mitigation work be done on Shavers Fork.
Plans were drawn up, a contractor was hired and $4 million worth of work began early last September. Using the railroad yard at Cheat Bridge as a staging area, crews from North State Environmental Inc. shuttled heavy equipment by rail to the four-mile stretch of river between Rocky Run and Second Fork and got busy.
"They put in single- and double-wing current deflectors, cross-vane structures, rock vanes, and a new sort of structure they call 'toe wood,' " Bennett said. "They did a limited amount of hole creation, and they put in benches that should help to narrow up the river channel.
"The hope is that narrowing and deepening the channel will break up ice during the winter and help to prevent ice scour. We're also hoping the deeper pools will help intercept [cooler] ground water and bring the stream's overall temperature down."