When the Down East chapter of Trout Unlimited was officially recognized by the national organization in October 2019 to fill the void after the Sunkhaze Trout Unlimited chapter closed, it meant folks from Greater Bangor and points to the north and east would again have a local group working on fisheries and river conservation projects in Maine.
But months later, a major hurdle made their efforts a lot more challenging.
Despite considerable interest in the organization — as it provided people a closer location than Trout Unlimited’s Georges River chapter based in Rockland — the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic barely five months later stalled the group’s efforts.
Downeast Trout Unlimited’s in-person monthly meetings were canceled for more than two years and most of its planned field projects were put on hold. However, in March 2020 the chapter was among the first in the country to hold online meetings via Zoom.
On Wednesday, the organization had planned to conduct its third hybrid meeting, but the session has been changed to online only because of the weather.
Chapter president Rob Packie is trying to get the word out that Downeast Trout Unlimited, and its nearly 250 members, is very much back in business.
“We’re operating now out of the Moore Center in Ellsworth,” said Packie, who hopes to get more people involved in the group’s initiatives now that it is holding in-person meetings and participation in public events is on the increase.
Wednesday’s meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m., will feature a presentation by Steve Heinz, the Maine Trout Unlimited Council’s coordinator with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He will explain the license terms and conditions for the Ripogenus and Penobscot Mills projects, including flows and where things stand with the five-year relicensing process.
The presentation is especially relevant for those who fish the West Branch of the Penobscot River or have a camp on Chesuncook Lake and have witnessed low-water events in recent years.
The commission plans on April 22 to release the Initial Study Report for the Ripogenus-Penobscot Mills Relicensing. Comments and new study requests are due by June 21.
Packie said the monthly meeting also will provide Downeast Trout Unlimited members and prospective participants the opportunity to generate some momentum for the group’s upcoming projects by staffing events such as the Cabin Fever Reliever and the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show.
Downeast Trout Unlimited’s mission is conserving, protecting and restoring coldwater fisheries in Maine rivers and watersheds. With warmer weather on the way, interest building and people eager to chip in, Packie is hopeful the organization can have a positive effect through its work in eastern and Down East Maine.
“These projects are really big, so it’s a help if you get more than one group involved,” Packie said. “There’s a lot of money involved.”
The group works closely with other like-minded organizations such as the Downeast Salmon Federation and Union Salmon Association, which engage in various fisheries and habitat projects in Down East rivers.
“We’re trying to get a work group going now to do some work Down East, some hands-on restoration,” Packie said of teaming up with Project SHARE in the Narraguagus River.
Downeast Trout Unlimited also is gearing up for the Project Healing Waters initiative, which provides fly fishing opportunities to Veterans. It also joins with other state Trout Unlimited chapters in offering scholarships for its Maine Trout Unlimited Trout Camp, an immersive program for youth ages 13-17 that happens the last week in June.
For more information on Downeast Trout Unlimited, contact Tammy Packie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-288-5442. To join, call 1-800-834-2419 or go to tu.org/intro and use chapter code 305. To view Wednesday night’s meeting remotely, you can click on the Zoom link here.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when Down East Trout Unlimited was formed. This chapter was started in 2018 but not officially recognized until 2019. A previous version of this story also incorrectly included the Downeast Salmon Federation as a participant in the Narraguagus River effort with Project SHARE.