The Foundation & Background of Saluda River Trout Unlimited
Chapter # 359
The Saluda River Chapter of Trout Unlimited (SRTU) was formed in April of 1982 at the West Columbia home of Ted Wietecha. For several years Ted had wanted to form a midlands “fishing club”. Malcolm Leaphart, who had been a member of Trout Unlimited in Virginia since 1976, favored a conservation oriented organization, and Ted, upon visiting a TU Chapter meeting in Greenville, really liked what he saw. From that point, the collaboration between the two gentlemen evolved into the Saluda River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Malcolm was able to recruit Art Carter, John Davis, Charles Harrison, Don Eng, Chris LaCorda, Michael Edwards, Harold Jarvis, Buddy Jennings, Grayson Gurley, and Curtis Jones to round out the twelve members required to charter a Chapter. Within a few years, members such as Dermon Sox, Tony Bebber, Jerry Branch, Jack Gould, Greg Meyers, Leon Gyles, and Mina Harrington had come on board to further strengthen and shape the Chapters’ mission statement, “to preserve and protect our coldwater habitats of trout and salmon species.”
Malcolm, who had previously served as President of the local Sierra Club, served as the “founding” president. During the first several years, the Chapter organized a Board of Directors, set up committees, and ran well-attended monthly meetings with agendas that focused on issues such as water quality and educational programs about trout, trout habitat, and ecological issues that affected streams and fisheries. Annual banquets were organized to help raise funds for expenses such as a monthly newsletter, which Malcolm edited and published. The Chapter was off and running and the founding members carefully began to established partnerships and communications with state and federal resource agencies for the purpose of leveraging cooperative research and habitat programs.
Dr. Keith Taniguchi of the USC Baruch Center coordinated the first research project that the Chapter participated in. The Chapter solicited a $5,250.00 research grant from national TU Embrace-A-Stream grant program to conduct a “temperature and flow” study of the Lower Saluda River tailrace below the Lake Murray dam. The SCDNR had managed a stocked trout fishery in the river since the early 1960’s. The USGS conducted the study coordinated by Dr. Taniguchi and the Chapter and showed that Lower Saluda River had suitable temperatures and flows from the dam to the confluence of the Congaree River that were conducive to the type of habitat required for trout survival. This effort leveraged the Chapter as a legitimate conservation organization and strengthened partnerships that still exist today.
The Chapter, over the next few years became respected for their approach and suggested management tactics of the Lower Saluda River corridor.The presence of the Chapter spawned the creation of the State Council of Trout Unlimited to be formed with four representatives from each Chapter. The council immediately found a way to raise several thousand dollars to help conduct a study on the Chattooga River. This effort partnered with the US Forest Service, SCDNR, GADNR, Clemson professor Rocky English, and a lot of TU member manpower. The entire stretch of the river, in a macro-invertebrate insect study, was sampled from the headwaters at Cashiers, NC, to Lake Yonah twice a year for three consecutive years. The results of the study from the aquatic samples collected provided an accurate summary of food sources available in the river to trout. In addition, it provided an important baseline of the rivers’ water quality. The Chapters’ participation in creel surveys and electroshock efforts in several stretches of the river provided much needed data to analyze trout population and health statistics. This project was significant in galvanizing the relationship between both Chapters and was a catalyst for spinning new Chapters in Clemson and Rabun County, Georgia.
The Chapter headed back home to help pay for an oxygen dynamics study by Dr. Hank McKellar of the USC School of Public Health on the Lower Saluda River. This study used USGS equipment to monitor the dissolved oxygen content of the water at various stations in the river. The study provided scientific proof that the problems on the river that were observed by fishermen in the late summer and early fall were results of anoxic water released from the cold stratified bottom layers Lake Murray during hydro-electric operations. The study also proved that as the water turbulently flowed downstream over rocks and other structures, oxygen gradually began to re-saturate itself into the water. The problems revealed by the study were that the river was not necessarily able to recover the required oxygen levels necessary to support the fish and aquatic life. Lethal levels of dissolved oxygen as low as 1 mg/l were often recorded, which is significantly below the standard of 6 mg/l that were a staple of trout fisheries. The Chapter requested that SCDHEC take action to have SCE&G correct the problem. Though SCE&G has taken measures to install “turbine venting” on their generators, even today, the 6 mg/l scientifically accepted dissolved oxygen standard still has not been maintained in the river.
The Chapter has actively worked and provided input to the Lower Saluda River Corridor Planning Process conducted by the SC Water Resources Division of the SCDNR and SCPRT. The Lower Saluda River Advisory Council was formed as a result of the rivers designation as a SC “Wild and Scenic River” and the Chapter has actively conspired on issues dealing with water quality, public access, landowner concerns, flow levels, public safety, conservation easements, fishery issues, River Alliance plans, and support for Saluda Shoals Park.
The development of the first Chapter website by Gary Meink promoted dialogue and communication that was extremely important in Chapter development. Collaborations and networking with the SC Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Central Midlands Planning Council, American Rivers, Nature Conservancy, Congaree Land and Trust and the SC Coastal Conservation League has leveraged the Chapters’ voice and ability to promote their TU mission statement. Involvement in the Chattooga River Study, Estatoe River Rehab Project, and Chauga River Impoundment Renovation Project has provided satisfaction and success to the Chapters three hundred plus members. The Chapter has also participated in events such as river cleanups, educational demonstrations, “Kids Fishing Days”, and National hunting and fishing events.