From Smyth Co. New and Messenger - December 12, 2015




The Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited recently presented two awards to the Mountain Empire Trout Unlimited (METU) Chapter at its quarterly meeting in Syria, Virginia:


The "Council Award of Excellence" recognized METU as the “most outstanding chapter in the State of Virginia.”  The chapter also received the award for “Conservation Project of the Year," acknowledging METU's work on the South Fork Holston River Trail at the Buller Fish Hatchery.  The METU chapter includes members from Carroll, Grayson, Smyth, Washington, and Wythe Counties.


Eric J. Sacknoff, MD, founding president of the chapter, accepted the honors for the local chapter.  He thanked the volunteer members of the chapter for their hard work, commitment, and contribution of time and talent in support of chapter projects and programs, resulting in these two special awards.  Dr. Sacknoff also recognized the contributions of many donors for their generosity in supporting chapter activities.


“These awards acknowledge the dedication of volunteers and the donations from friends, businesses and industry.  We appreciate their generous support of the chapter events and activities.  METU strives to bring together children, adults, schools, and businesses to have a positive impact in the community through education, conservation, and fishing.”


A focal point of METU is the Trout In the Classroom (TIC) program.  Supervised by teachers at local schools, the chapter currently sponsors 15 tanks in Smyth, Wythe, Carroll, Washington, and Grayson counties.  TIC is a conservation-oriented environmental education program to raise trout from eggs to fingerlings.  The project fits perfectly into the national mandate STEM program to support and encourage Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  From an early age students become engaged in recording water quality, pH, ammonia, habitat restoration, and biological growth measurements.  These observations and recordings provide fundamental research training in the scientific method.  METU commends the TIC teachers for their hard work in providing this experience for students.  “This investment in conservation education for our youth promotes greater awareness in maintaining better stream habitat and restoration for the future,” Sacknoff said.


In April, the Mountain Empire Chapter of Trout Unlimited received a grant of $10,000 through the Trout Unlimited national Embrace-A-Stream grant program.  METU, working in partnership with the Town of Abingdon, and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) requested grant support from Trout Unlimited to help restore a 900 foot-long section of trout habitat on Wolf Creek in the town of Abingdon, Virginia. The project reach is from the Colonial Road culverts to the pedestrian bridge at the trailhead of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.  This project will improve stream channel and stream-bank stability, restore riparian vegetation, enhance macro-invertebrates, improve water quality and provide community access to and educational/interpretive opportunities on native brook trout waters.


“Thanks to the Embrace-A-Stream grant, we are excited to initiate a stream restoration project at Wolf Creek at the historic Revolutionary War Muster Grounds,” said Sacknoff.  “By combining a conservation project with an historic site, we look forward to involving many volunteers and stakeholders from the local community to work on this unique endeavor for the Town of Abingdon.”


Other METU chapter projects include:

  • “Fish On” – Annual family fishing event co-sponsored with the Town of Marion to celebrate Heritage Day with fly fishing instruction and trout habitat education
  • Teaching fly fishing in public school physical education classes
  • Conservation education
  • Annual “Tee Off for Trout” golf tournament fundraiser


“Conservation Project of the Year”:  This award recognized METU for its work in establishing a new 2.5 mile fishing trail along the pristine water of the South Fork of the Holston River above Buller Hatchery near Marion, VA.  The trail provides access into the gorge, well known for its wild rainbow and brown trout. After three years of planning and design the local TU chapter collaborated with DGIF and the US Forest Service (USFS) to clear and bulldoze the trail in July of 2012.


Dr. Sacknoff recruited members of the chapter to clear trash, brush, and rocks on the trail. The American Electric Power Foundation donated $5,000 to the TU chapter to provide educational signage regarding fish species, aquatic entomology, and stream hydrology.


Bill Kittrell, Regional Aquatic Resources Manager of DGIF, and Stephen Hmurciak of the USFS worked diligently with members of the chapter to make sure that the trail provided ample access to the river while preserving private property rights. A parking lot has been created at upper end of the trail for easy access, and anglers can park at the hatchery at the trail’s lower end.


Dr. Sacknoff has committed the Mountain Empire TU chapter to steward “this wonderful fishing resource of wild trout in Southwest Virginia.”   On June 6, 2014, METU celebrated the opening of the trail with donors, sponsors, and volunteers.


The Trout Unlimited mission is "to conserve, protect and restore North America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds."  Over 450 chapters of TU nationwide accomplishes this mission on local, state and national levels with an extensive and dedicated volunteer network.  National and regional offices of TU employ professionals who testify before Congress, publish a quarterly magazine, intervene in federal legal proceedings, and work with the organization's 152,000 volunteers to keep them active and involved in conservation issues.  More information about TU's action network, conservation initiatives and educational programs can be found at  METU is an active chapter and welcomes new members; for more information contact Carol Sacknoff at