Penn's Woods West chapter of Trout Unlimited marks anniversary
Mac Seaholm was a recent transplant to Pittsburgh when, in 1963, he joined a sportsmen's club.
It was new, one of the first local chapters of a fledgling national organization conceived along Michigan's Au Sable River in 1959.
“I has just moved to Pittsburgh a few years before that, and I didn't know too many people who fished, so I thought it would be a good way to meet some other anglers. I had a lot to learn at that age,” said Seaholm, who lives in Green Tree. “Of course, I still do.”
The goal of the organization then — nationally and locally — was to protect and improve cold water rivers and streams favored by trout, waters that many had determined were under assault from pollution and poor management. That national group was Trout Unlimited, and the chapter Seaholm helped to form in March 1963 was what would in time become Penn's Woods West.
Penn's Woods is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month as one of the oldest and largest Trout Unlimited chapters in the nation. A celebratory banquet is planned for Sept. 21 in Pine Township.
“We think it's a pretty big deal,” said Peter TenEyck, a member helping to organize the event. “I know for myself, when I started looking into the history of the chapter, I realized just how much the chapter has accomplished and how important it's been to a lot of people for a long time.”
There are few chapters around the nation that have survived so long.
“We have 378 chapters nationwide. We do not know how many are older than 50 years old, but I think it would be safe to say that it's likely less than 15 or so, max,” said Beverly Smith, national director of volunteer opportunities for Trout Unlimited.
Penn's Woods has done more than just survive over time. It's prospered.
Trout Unlimited has about 140,000 members nationwide. Pennsylvania is a big part of that: It's got about 13,000 members. They're spread across 48 local chapters, said Brian Wagner of Nazareth, president of the Pennsylvania Council of TU.
With 1,125 on its membership rolls, Penn's Woods accounts for about 9 percent of the state's entire membership. That's impressive, he said.
“All of our chapters, at the local and state level, are run by volunteers. So it takes a dedicated group of guys with a good organization to keep things going that well for that long,” Wagner said.
Dick Bosetti of Crescent Township is a past president of the chapter who's been involved with Penn's Woods West since the early 1970s. He credits the chapter's success in part to the angling available in Pennsylvania.
“Well, we're in a state, number one, with a lot of trout fishing. Most of our members are trout fishermen as well as conservationists. They want protect the streams where they fish,” he said.
But the works of the chapter go beyond self-interest, he said. It's been blessed to count as members a lot of “good, fine people” as interested in conserving trout and cold water for future generations as much as for themselves.
“The chapter has been a good social organization, but it's done a lot of good things for conservation, and that's what it's really all about,” Bosetti said. “But to achieve that you need people who are willing to get involved. We've been fortunate to always have a good group of guys willing to serve.”
The chapter has been active over the years. When first chartered, it was known as the Pennsylvania Chapter and considered virtually the entire state its area of responsibility. Members did stream improvement projects and cleanups at points all over the map. They partnered with the Dunbar Sportsmen's Club to work on Dunbar Creek in Fayette County.
They worked on Neshannock Creek in Mercer County with what became a Trout Unlimited chapter there. They worked on Little Sandy Creek near Polk in Venango County.
The chapter, which officially became Penn's Woods West in 1965, more recently has had a stricter focus on southwestern Pennsylvania.
It long ago adopted Pine Creek in Allegheny County and annually works there with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Allison Park Sportsmen's Club and others to do stream improvement work to create habitat for trout.
It's a sponsor of the Trout in the Classroom project locally, too, as a growing membership and new blood have energized the chapter in recent years, TenEyck said.
The banquet will celebrate that, he added.
“There's a lot of good stuff going on with the chapter right now,” he said. “When you know that, and can also sit around and hear the stories of these guys who formed the chapter when they were in their 20s, it's just so neat. We're very excited.”
Seaholm, still a member, said joining when he did proved worthwhile.
“It's been wonderful. I enjoyed it tremendously and met some great people and learned a lot about fly fishing and cold water conservation,” he said.