Trout Unlimited NEW JERSEY STATE COUNCIL

Trout Unlimited NEW JERSEY STATE COUNCIL


September 10, 2007

Saving Mason’s Run

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Bank reconstruction on Mason's Run

by: Brian Burns - Ray Neirle TU Chapter member

As hard as it is to believe in this age of urban sprawl, traffic jams, and vanishing wildlife habitat, a tiny free-flowing, spring-fed stream still provides the necessary habitat for south Jersey’s last remaining wild brook trout population.

Mason’s Run is located in the borough of Pine Hill, in the southeast corner of Camden County, one of New Jersey’s most populated counties. The NJ Division of Freshwater Fisheries has known of this brook trout population since the 1950’s and believes that it may have originated from stockings that took place in the early 1900’s, although data thus far is inconclusive. DNA testing is being conducted by the state’s principal cold water fisheries biologist, Pat Hamilton, and may provide more information. Because of the species’ strict environmental requirements, it is truly remarkable that this population of brook trout managed to survive over the years.

By trout stream standards, Mason’s Run is very small.In its upper reaches, you can step across it, although in its downstream sections it becomes significantly wider and deeper. The section of the stream which is classified astrout productionis only about one and a half miles in length and is located on the former Pine Hill Ski area that was popular during the early and mid 1970’s. The construction of the ski area was one of the major factors in the alteration of the stream’s original course. In order to have a water supply for snow-making machines, Mason’s Run was dammed  to create a pond from which to draw water. This dam became a physical downstream barrier for the trout and an environmental barrier in the form of warm water. During the 1980’s the ski resort suffered financial problems and eventually closed. During several years when the property sat vacant and became a hang-out for local teens, its wetlands suffered degradation from the illegal use of ATV’s. In one area, ATV traffic was so intense that the stream lost its original channel configuration and was nothing more than a shallow mudhole.

The saving grace for Mason’s Run came in 2001 when Empire Golf decided to turn the property into a first-class golf course. During the early stages of planning, Hugh Carberry, TU’s southern regional biologist at the time, performed a shocking sampling to determine if brook trout were still present. They were, but only in the area above the aforementioned pond. Working with Dave Fanz from the NJ Division of Land Use, a plan to protect the stream and its brook trout was established. The original layout of the golf course was revised significantly in order to accomplish this objective.

It was about this time that I discovered the brook trout population and began regular correspondence with Hugh Carberry. I also joined theRay Neirle Chapter of Trout Unlimitedin order to bring local attention and support to the stream and its impending changes. One of the biggest changes to take place was the elimination of the pond and the restoration of the stream’s original channel which encompassed 1100 feet of stream restoration. As the pond was drained, warm water species of fish including largemouth bass, pickerel and pan fish were captured and restocked to a local lake. While the new channel was being created, the stream was diverted through the use of a bypass pipe.

bank restorationThe new stream channel was designed by Jim Gracie of Brightwater, Inc. Jim was a former national Trout Unlimited president, and he now specializes in stream restoration projects across the country. Jim was responsible for the successful Flanders Brook project, a wild trout stream in North Jersey where Rt. 206 was widened and the stream’s channel had to be reconfigured. Jim took measurements of the upstream area of Mason’s Run and used those figures to design a channel whose width to depth ratio and sinuosity matched the upper channel.

Once the new channel was completed, it would provide more than double the amount of trout habitat available. The creation of the channel was not without its difficulties. The initial attempts to stabilize the heavily-saturated soils of the stream banks for the new channel were not successful and failed after a heavy rainstorm came through the area. The second attempt at stabilizing the stream bank involved using a coconut fiber material and a steel form. The steel form was used to hold the soil back while coconut fiber material lined the channel and then was actually buried on the outside of the stream bank. In essence, the same heavy wet soils that caused the earlier problems now helped solve them. A custom wetland seed mix was planted on the stream bank along with hundreds of woody wetland plants whose roots would stabilize the bank over time as the coconut fiber material deteriorated. It wasn’t long before the planted vegetation became well established and the restoration of the new channel was completed.

The preservation activities on Mason’s Run was not without its problems. In addition to the channel construction problems discussed, during grading of the site for construction of the golf course clubhouse on the highest elevation of the property, a large unstable hillside collapsed during a heavy thunderstorm. The result was a mudslide that dumped at least 50 cubic yards of sandy soil into the upstream trout habitat. Areas of the stream that were previously a foot deep were now just inches deep. The sediment was quickly moving downstream and fast action had to be taken before the habitat was ruined. At the downstream limit of the sediment, a sandbag barrier was created that acted as a sediment trap. For two weeks sand was removed in buckets and placed on a conveyor belt which took it up and out of the ravine where the stream is located. Members of Ray Neirle Chapter of NJTU assisted in this cleanup and some even gave up a planned fishing trip to help save the stream. Jim Gracie and his staff expedited the cleanup by using a large mechanical pump that acted like a fire hose. This devise pushed sand in the stream channel down to the sediment trap where it was removed.

Mason’s Run has also suffered from sedimentation from storm drains located above its head waters. These storm drains not only carried sediment off of the local county highway but also eroded soils from the surrounding woodlands, all due to the volume and speed of water leaving the storm drains during major storms. This problem was addressed by Jim Gracie about a year ago. The banks of the channel were re-graded and large rocks were used to create several pools that slow the speed of the water and allow some deposition of sediment. Further downstream a sediment trap was created to stop sediment from reaching the trout habitat. The golf course personnel have to remove sediment from this trap periodically as it builds up over time.

It’s been several years now since the stream channel reconstruction took place and trout have taken up residence in the new habitat that was made available. In addition, trout have been observed far downstream in areas where they were never seen before. As part of the wetlands permits issued by the NJDEP for the site, a conservation team was established to help improve and monitor the trout stream and surrounding wetlands. Members of the team consist of representatives from the DEP, TU, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pine Hill Conservation Agency, the Camden County Soil Conservation District and the Pine Hill Golf Course. The golf course provides the group $10,000 per year for conservation purposes. Thus far, the conservation team has installed high-grade security fencing, conducted several macro-invertebrate studies and hired a biologist to conduct studies that monitor an endangered plant species on the site known asswamp pink. The macro-invertebrate studies have resulted in very high water-quality classifications for Mason’s Run, with most stations sampled being categorized as non-impaired. The team has also purchased temperature monitors to record stream temperatures every hour. Future projects for stream improvements are being considered at this time. One potential project of significance is a method to reduce runoff from an adjacent parking lot at a nearby apartment complex. At the present time, storm water releases directly into the stream carrying whatever may be on the surface of the parking lot and, in hot summer months, raising stream temperatures for short periods of time.

In summation, the future of the brook trout population in Mason’s Run looks promising.

Thanks to the efforts and cooperation of a diverse group of local, state and federal agencies, the local chapter of Trout Unlimited and Empire Golf Corp. the trout now have more habitat than they have had in many years. Sedimentation problems have been resolved, and a conservation group has been established to look after the wetlands and monitor and improve the site with funds provided by the golf course. There has been successful spawning every year and knowing that it is taking place in south Jersey where this is extremely rare is really something special.

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    Mason's Run in summer 2013