Fishing may not be at the top of people’s downtime plans during the winter, but in Maryville, it’s going to be an option soon.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confirmed it will be stocking the Bicentennial Greenbelt Park Lake in December with rainbow trout for the first time ever.
A team of biologists and TWRA agents showed up on Monday to pull temperature-measuring equipment out of the lake. They had installed a device in the lake during the previous year to help determine if the water would be cold enough for trout.
“The whole idea ... is to get trout into more or less urban settings,” TWRA Streams and Rivers Wildlife Manager Jim Habera said in a phone interview. “It’s to give folks in those kinds of areas a chance to catch trout in a place where they otherwise may not get a chance.”
Habera said the project is a cooperative one. City of Maryville officials have given their blessing, but the Little River chapter of Trout Unlimited has been the primary driver.
“They came to us and said, ‘Hey we’ve got this water here, we know you guys do these winter trout programs, in selected places,’” Habera said, noting the TWRA had done something similar and very successful in Knoxville’s Fountain City Lake.
Maryville city Stormwater Program Manager Dale Jayne said part of the idea to stock Maryville’s much-visited and much-fished-in lake came last year when the city dredged the small body of water behind the Blount County Public Library.
“The council had asked the TWRA about (adding trout) a few years ago,” Jayne said. That’s when the idea to put trout in the lake came up.
In May, agents placed a thermometer in the water to see if it would hold at a reasonable temperature for the trout, at least below 70 degrees, Habera said.
It did. And now official TWRA maps online label Greenbelt Lake as a designated spot for winter trout stock.
Ernie Frey has been president of the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited for three years. He’s vacating the role in January, but successfully achieved something entirely unique in the county before he moves on.
According to TWRA’s online trout stocking locations map, rainbow trout are only placed in one other body of water in Blount: Little River in Townsend, and only for the spring.
Now that they will be in Maryville, Frey said the opportunities for community participation are manifold and much more accessible.
“(TWRA) was very impressed with the accessibility of the stream because it was all greenway,” Frey said, confirming what Habera said, namely that fish could be placed in both the lake and the part of Pistol Creek that pours into it.
Trout Unlimited works to protect and restore cold water resources and watersheds in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the park’s website states.
But the organization also wants to foster education.
“I’m also talking with some people over at Maryville College to see if they want to be involved with monitoring the stream while the trout are in there,” Frey said.
He’s also reaching out to the Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation to see if they’ll provide fly-fishing classes in the winter.
“We’re trying to make it a real social program for everybody who wants to be involved,” Frey said.
He also noted that the program comes free of cost. The TWRA provides the fish and the transportation. All that Maryville has to provide are the residents who want to catch trout during the area’s reasonably mild winters.
‘All kinds of fishermen’
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants us to make sure before we introduce rainbow trout into any location that there’s not a sensitivities species that they might impact,” Habera said. “And there wasn’t.”
The TWRA team has been considering the area for trout since the beginning of 2019, Frey said.
But water temperatures have been measured since May.
Habera said all conditions are extremely optimal for stocking because the water — particularly in the creek — stays so cool, even during the summer months.
Frey, a Blount County resident who moved to the area from Florida more than a decade ago, said the partnership with TWRA has been ideal. He and Habera both said they expect the trout to be fished out before next summer rolls around and the water heats back up.
Even though the project is in its infancy, it may grow into something bigger, provided public enthusiasm and cold temperatures hold steady, he said.
“We want to see how it goes, how the public receives it, how much participation there is,” Habera said. “We hope to do it on an annual basis going forward.”
Added Frey: “I expect to see all kids of fishermen out there and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”