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Taking care of the trout in Afton

Belwin Conservancy recently bought a 50-acre parcel of land that sits on Valley Creek. The property includes spawning grounds that support Valley Creek's three self-sustaining trout populations -- brown, brook and rainbow trout.

Many people consider Valley Creek to be one of the premier trout streams in the area and Belwin Conservancy is taking steps to ensure its longevity.

Earlier this summer Belwin Conservancy bought a 50-acre parcel of land that sits on Valley Creek.

The property includes spawning grounds that support the creek's three self-sustaining trout populations--brown, brook and rainbow trout.

"Everybody says it's one of the best trout streams in the region and they're not kidding - it really is a rare gem of a creek," said Ned Phillips, membership director for Belwin Conservancy. "It looks like a 'National Geographic' scene up there with the trout running up the stream and laying eggs - it's really neat."

Belwin Conservancy in cooperation with the Valley Creek Protection Partnership, which includes Washington County, the Conservation Fund, Minnesota Land Trust and other organizations, was able to purchase the 50-acre property thanks to a grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The property cost about $75,000.

Philips said the Valley Creek Protection Partnership had been trying to acquire the property for several years.

"This has been a property that the whole Valley Creek Protection Partnership has been working to see protected for a long time," he said, "just due to its natural features it was an obvious piece to protect.

"Eventually we were able to make it work this year after sort of getting all the pieces lined up. We sort of pulled everything we had to bring this project to fruition."

Now that Belwin Conservancy has acquired the piece of property, the nonprofit organization can go to work doing a variety of restoration work on the property, and the surrounding wetland, thanks to an additional $100,000 in funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

"There's a lot that can be done, which is exciting to me ecologically about it," said Tara Kelly, director of ecological restoration with Belwin Conservancy.

She said the first step is to develop a management plan.

Kelly said she envisions the restoration work including invasive species removal, including buckthorn and garlic mustard, and some wetland and prairie restoration.

"I want to capture that whole spectrum," she said. "A lot of that will be flushed out in the plan."

In addition to protecting the trout, the new property will also enable Belwin Conservancy to protect other animals such as the brook lamprey.

"The trout are obviously a little more appealing, but it's also important for all the other animals," Kelly said.

Philips said he is excited about the new conservation efforts because they will help Belwin Conservancy protect Valley Creek permanently.

"With careful protection, based on some key areas, together we have this kind of unique ability to protect this creek long term," he said. "It's a really great spot and we have this great opportunity to protect it forever - it really is a little gem of stream and we're lucky to have it here."

Kelly agrees with Philips.

"It's not a pie in the sky idea," she said, "it's very within reach of permanently protecting."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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