I’d like to let you in on a little secret: We in Adams County are blessed to be in one of the nation’s fly-fishing hot spots. While the Cumberland Valley and the mountain streams of central Pennsylvania receive much of the notoriety, our own Conewago Creek is equal to them all.

When I’m out fishing on the Conewago, if I come across another person wielding a fly rod, I usually stop to chat a little, both to be friendly and to pick up some fishing tips (because there’s always more to learn about fly fishing). I usually ask where they’re from, and I find that folks come from all over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and beyond to fly fish the Conewago Creek.

Why do they come here, to Adams County, from so far away? That’s easy: There are a lot of trout in the Conewago and, quite obviously, fishing is much more fun when there’s something to catch.

There are a few reasons why there are a lot of trout in the Conewago and other creeks in Adams County. The first is Adams County Trout Unlimited (ACTU). ACTU works tirelessly to establish and maintain fish habitat here in Adams County. Among other important activities, they also work with cooperating land owners to keep private land open to people who love to fish.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is another reason. Working with dedicated volunteers, the commission does an excellent job of keeping our approved trout waters well stocked.

And finally, as an added bonus, the Mummasburg Sportsman’s Association arranges for the stocking of “trophy trout” in select streams in Adams County. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that latching onto one of the big ones is a thrill like none other.

But there’s another reason we have so many trout here in Adams County, our plentiful rural lands.

Trout are very sensitive creatures, and they can only survive in high-quality water, water that’s cool and clear, free of excessive nutrients and sediment. The aquatic insects that are the mainstay of the trout’s diet are also highly sensitive to water quality. In fact, if there are trout in a stream, that’s a clear indicator that the stream’s water quality is excellent. Since there are plentiful trout in Adams County streams, you can conclude that our water quality is very high, at least in our trout streams.

What factors support high water quality? First and foremost: riparian buffer zones. A riparian buffer is a vegetated corridor along a stream bank that acts as a filter to keep excess nutrients and sediment out of the stream. The best riparian buffers also contain trees that shade the stream water and keep it cool.

The second key factor supporting high water quality is undeveloped open space, fields and woodlands. Open space works like a huge riparian buffer to catch and filter rain water so that it doesn’t wash chemicals and sediments directly into our streams.

As development increases in an area, we lose the open space and vegetation that help filter our water, and as a result, water quality deteriorates, not just for the trout that live in the streams, but for the people who live near those streams.

For this reason, protecting our rural open spaces and riparian buffers is critical if we want to pass Adams County’s world-class fly fishing tradition on to our grandchildren.

The Land Conservancy of Adams County is an accredited, member-supported nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving the rural lands and character of Adams County.

Pat Naugle is past president of the Land Conservancy of Adams County’s board of directors.

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