It used to be that no one would ever go near the Nesquehoning Creek. Lined with acid mine drainage and sewage from the borough, the creek, years ago, was beyond anyone's acceptable sense of smell.
Enter the Nesquehoning Conservation Club.
Following the installation of the Nesquehoning Borough Sewage Treatment Plant, the club, which now numbers about 60 members, began what has been a successful voyage that has transformed the waters into a popular fishing spot for trout-starved fisherman.
That message was sounded as clear as the creek waters are on Saturday when despite threatening skies and an on-again, off-again drizzle, 89 youths participated in the Fifth Annual Connell McCall Memorial Fishing Derby at the creek. In addition to providing thrills for the youngsters, the event served several purposes, including accentuating the club's activities at the creek, memorializing the former fisherman (McCall) and serving as one of the busiest social events in the community throughout the year.
"The club started stocking the creek in 2005 and, two years later, the creek was placed on the state approved trout water list, meaning it became eligible for stocking by the Fish and Game Commission," noted Donny McGorry, president of the club.
He explained, "The creek has a lot of acid mine runoff drainage, and the town's sewage was discharged into it," he said, explaining, "The reservoir system really cleaned it up and people started catching natives in it, so we decided to improve upon that."
He said club member Mickey Angst arranged for the Biology Club at LCCC to test the water and the club members started building dams and planting tres along the creek. Meanwhile, "cleanup measures and stream improvements resulted in good, increased habitat for fishing and recreation," said club member Joe Drosdak.
McGorry, who is joined as an officer of the club by Greg Pecha, vice president, and Sam Kitchko, secretary-treasurer, said the improvements made at the creek are "well worth the effort."
The state stocks about 1,000 trout in the creek in two stockings per year, he said. Then the club put 900 fish into the waters for the derby and will stock bout 500 more in October.
"When you see the kids walking through town with stringers full of fish, and you see the look on their faces, it's amazing," McGorry said.
He added, "The fact that the creek has become a prime fishing site is like a dream come true for a lot of guys. Many of us thought we'd never see the day when a fishing derby would happen here, now, it's a big event in the town, a social gathering."
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot at the bottom of the New Columbus while the 89 youths fished their hearts away, something "Connell (McCall) would have loved," said Bob Perrin of Coaldale, a member of the Friends of Connell McCall who a few years ago went to the club with the idea of holding the derby in memory of the Lansford resident who passed away in 2006.
"When Bob and Dan Dunn came to us with the idea, we liked it," McGory said. "The club members always wanted to have a derby, and the McCalls are good people, and a lot of us knew Connell, he was a friend of mine, so the idea took off from there," the president said.
Saturday's event marked a continuation of the event that had its start in 2009. "This is wonderful," said Mary Ellen McCall, Connell's mother who along with her husband, Emmett Sr., were joined by their other four sons (Emmett Jr., Patrick, Michael and Terry) and numerous family members and friends.
Mary Ellen added, "We are really appreciative of Connell's friends and the Nesquehoning Conservation Club for doing such a good job every year. They work together really well. And this is a time when old friends come back, but, especially, the kids enjoy this. Connell would be thrilled. This was his life."
Among those friends were Tim and Simone (Sparich) Zuber of Morganville, N.J., who are among the many contributors to the annual derby. Tim, originally from Summit Hill, said, "We've been gone from the area for 22 years, and the timing of the event is great. It's Mother's Day weekend, and it's a great reason to come home. But, it's really special to see these kids having fun."
He added, "When I was a kid, you wouldn't step a toe into these waters. Now, the water is crystal clear, and that's the way it should be. We contribute because of the great work the club members do. The people here deserve the credit. Some of them, we went to high school with, but they are the ones who put in the hard work to make this happen, so we contribute financially to try to help out."
Meanwhile, Perrin praised the work of the club members, businesses and individual donors and everyone else who helped make the event another success. He said, "The derby is a great day, rain or shine. It's phenomenal. There are wonderful gifts, one for every kid, so no one goes away empty-handed. This is a great way of supporting the Nesquehning club and to remember a friend."
Meanwhile, youths who were cited for winning special honors in the derby included:
Largest fish - Alyssa Buss, 22.5 inches, first place in the 13-15 age category; ages 3 -7 - Caitlyn Kovatch, 19 inches, and Logan Pribilla, 17 inches; ages 8-12 - Marcus Sagan, 19.5 inches, and Christina Dacey, 13 inches; and ages 13-15 - Buss and Sara Markovich, 17.5 inches.
First limit - ages 3-7 - Carl Andreas, Emma Dacey and Steele Zalik; and ages 8-12 - Ryan Murphy, Sagan, Andrew Surotchak and Madison Bunso.
Forst fish - ages 3-7 - Andreas and Morgan O'Brien; ages 8-12 - Murphy and Lauren Reaman; and ages 13-15 - Alex Kennedy, Tori Kerchner and Mike McLaughlin.