FTTU Celebrates 40th Anniversary
Inside the Outdoors, March 8
, 2013

Forbes Trail Chapter Trout Unlimited celebrated its 40th Anniversary Banquet and Raffle, Mar. 2, as 170 members and their guests gathered to take part in the only fundraiser the organization holds each year in efforts to raise money for conservation, restoration of resources and education, particularly youth.

Three prestigious awards were handed out to recipients who contributed to last year’s efforts in aiding FTTU meet its goals.

Leo Vensel of Export, received the Russ Mowry Silver Trout Award for volunteering by an individual. A Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor, fly fishing teacher and guide, “Vensel has helped out with our fly fishing and the conservation program since 2007, teaching fly casting and fly fish skills,” so stated Scott Minster, vice president.

Russ Mowry was a legendary fly tier from Latrobe, He was president of FTTU and long time active member. He and Latrobe’s Ken Igo invented the “Green Weenie,” a popular trout fly now sold nation-wide that has been in demand for many years.

Ligonier resident, Bob Shusko, was the recipient this year of the Don Robb Memorial Award. In addition to volunteering to the Latrobe-based organization, Shusko has been a long-time volunteer and a member of the board of directors for over a decade.

Minster said, “Bob has helped out with on-stream projects on Mill Creek and Rock Run. He is also a mentor with our youth group and has been instrumental in keeping the chapter running smoothly.”

Don Rob ran a fly fishing shop in Ligonier for many years. He was one of the founding members of FTTU and came up with the name for the chapter. He introduced many locals to fly fishing, fly tying and rod building. In turn, he got numerous folks involved with the local Trout Unlimited chapter.

This year’s Ed Bordas Award was presented to the Folly’s End Campground of Girard, PA, located along a Lake Erie tributary in Elk County. Minster, in giving the facility high acclaim, stated, “Folly’s End’s management has provided a meeting space for parking and staging of our annual youth group steelhead fishing trips, free of charge, since its beginning in 2005.”

Ed Bordas had a keen interest in FTTU. As a member, he not only believed in, but also supported the organization’s goals of conservation, restoration and education of youth. He contributed much to the organization as well. A former industrial arts teacher for Greensburg Salem High School, he taught members and youth how to tie flies to catch steelhead, in particular, a fish he enjoyed catching the most. Everything he learned while out in the streams, he shared with members of the organization, Minster said.

According to Monty Murty, president, “This spring is the 40th anniversary of FTTU. It was organized May 16, 1973, at Sleepy Hollow Tavern in response to the environmental impact of Hurricane Agnes on trout fishing in the Ligonier Valley. What followed was an incredibly successful history of grassroots conservation.”

Continuing, he added, “Trout Unlimited’s brand of conservation was controversial back then. Rather than just stocking polluted streams for a few months of fish each year, TU advocated preserving, protecting and restoring trout streams. That way, Mother Nature could grow native and wild trout, and special areas of healthy streams could be opened to catch-and-release fishing all year.”

Looking back over the history of the organization, Murty recapitulated some of the history of FTTU when he said, “Charter members like Don Robb, Tommy Evans, Frank Felbaum and Russ Mason were pioneers in what has become the gold standard in trout angling sportsmanship; trout stream conservation, catch-and release fly fishing and the use of barbless hooks. Some individuals were already members of TU in Johnstown’s Mountain Laurel or Pittsburgh’s Penns Wood West Chapters. Their fishing buddy, Ken Sink, for whom the Indiana PA chapter is named, in his role as TU State Council president, presided over the first meeting and presented the new chapter. Eighteen TU members transferred to Forbes Trail, and then along with 18 new members, elected Hunter Wood president, Mike Graboski, vice-president, Thomas Patton secretary and Curt Henry, treasurer.”

On June 21st, 1972, Hurricane Agnes flooded Pennsylvania with nearly 15 inches of rain in a 24-hour period in some places. Falling in Ligonier on the new Route 30 by-pass construction, it devastated trout fishing in the Loyalhanna. It was the catalyst for Westmoreland County trout anglers to organize the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

By the 1980’s, Forbes Trail chapter had achieved major progress restoring the Loyalhanna Creek as a trout fishery and creating a popular Catch-and-Release Delayed Harvest area in Ligonier. Both have direct impact on recreation and tourism, and therefore on the local economy. Forbes Trail Chapter received a prestigious nation Golden Trout Award for that work from Trout Unlimited.

Since then, it has restored the largest year-round cold water tributary in Linn Run State Park, Rock Run. It was in 1959, Linn Run, stopped being a trout stream and the trout in the state park cooperative nursery had died. So did their food source, aquatic insects, all because the acid readings had dropped below 5.0 pH (7.0 being the neutral level trout require). Acid rain and acid drainage from abandoned gas wells had destroyed this native trout habitat.

To reverse Rock Run’s acidic conditions, FTTU volunteers, to date, have spread 500 tons of limestone sand along the headwaters which has reduced the acidity and reintroduced Pennsylvania’s state fish, the Brook Trout. In 2008, Forbes Trail was named Pennsylvania’s Trout Unlimited Chapter of the Year for that achievement.

Bringing to light some of the activities FTTU volunteers are carrying out now, Murty said, "Our volunteer stream monitors are testing waters in the Ligonier Valley for early detection of impacts from Marcellus Shale gas extraction. We work with landowners to create handicapped accessible trout fishing areas. The chapter assists the Loyalhanna Watershed Association presenting in-stream science programs during school picnic days at Idlewild Park. We partner with the YMCA presenting fly fishing programs for women and girls. We also render assistance to disadvantaged kids on habitat projects and Boy Scouts earning Fly Fishing Merit Badges.”

“With the aid of its many volunteers,” Monty stated, “We focus on the future by introducing the increasingly indoor, Internet generation of young people to trout fishing and cold water conservation. Our Youth Group gives boys and girls between 12 and 16 an opportunity to develop fly fishing skills and become conservation minded. Our Trout in the Classroom program, an education program for students in K to 12, helps students learn science and mat by raising trout from eggs and releasing them in the wild. It’s a fun and high motivational program that starts them applying school work to real world problems and thinking about their environment. In 2997, and again in 2011, Forbes Trail’s youth programs were named Pennsylvania TU’s best. With more than 400 members in the Latrobe/Greensburg/Ligonier area, Forbes Trail is one of Pennsylvania’s most effective chapters.

With the help of the funding recently raised, it is hoped that a new generation of individuals will step up to the plate from all over the county to join forces to see to it that there is that needed attention given to conserve watersheds, making streams livable for aquatic life. Costs are soaring and financial needs are becoming more and more outstanding. FTTU is depending on future donations to help defray costs.

Those wishing to make donations may make out checks to: Forbes Trail Chapter Trout Unlimited and forward them to: Forbes Trail Trout Unlimited – Attention Secretary, P.O. Box 370, Youngstown, PA, 15696.

Trout Unlimited is America’s largest coldwater conservation organization. With more than 14,000 members, Pennsylvania has more chapters than any other state, and plays a leading role in conserving, protecting and restoring trout streams and their watersheds. Three TU chapters are key in the Laurel Highlands: Forbes Trail, Chester Ridge and Mountain Laurel.

The local chapter meets in the lower level of the Winnie Palmer Nature Center, in the St. Vincent College Complex, Latrobe, the third Wednesday of every month. Meetings begin promptly at 7 p.m. For more information, visit its website.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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