"On Stewardship" by Council Chair Mike Kuhr



Stewardship can be defined as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care”.  In today’s world, that can have many meanings: a parent / child relationship, a statewide public lands initiative, our belonging and sense of duty to an organization like Trout Unlimited, the care for our natural resources, and ultimately, the legacy we will pass on to future generations.


My daughter and I were fortunate to be at the confluence of these meanings on a recent trip to a local trout stream.  We were taking advantage of unseasonably mild January weather, and the early catch and release trout season in Wisconsin.  Fishing with kids can be tricky – you have to be ready to strike when just the right situation presents itself – even if that window is short.


I packed the car (and lots of snacks) and we headed out to a nearby stream with plenty of public access.  We’re fortunate to live in a state where the water belongs to all of us – and we’re allowed to legally fish any navigable stream as long as we keep our feet wet.  But that’s not easy to do with a 4 year old.  We needed access to the streambank.


Thankfully, for the last 30 years Wisconsin has been investing in public lands and public access thru the Knowles Nelson Stewardship Program.  It’s one of the primary reasons our outdoor economy is thriving, and it makes excursions like the one my daughter and I were on possible.


At the time the Stewardship Program came into existence, I was more concerned with stats on a baseball card than public boat launches, county forests, or private lands leased for public fishing access.  Things sure do change (for the record I still like baseball stats – just not in card form).


We pulled up to the parking area at the head of a trail that provides over two miles of access to a really nice trout stream – accessible via a hiking and biking trail on lands purchased thru the Stewardship Program.  We only fished a couple of pools this afternoon, but it’s nice to know that we could have went a lot further.  It’s good to have goals.


We rigged up and fished the first pool and then the second with no success.  My daughters’ attention soon turned to tossing rocks in the creek, then sticks, or anything else that would float.  A real in-depth study of buoyancy.


We passed a sign describing trout habitat, complete with pictures of some of the DNR personnel and TU volunteers who worked on the stream restoration project.  I paused for a moment and thought about all the work that has been done around our state to protect and restore our cold water resources.  I thought about all the Chapter and Council leaders who had come before me.  Will my time as “steward” of this Council meet their expectations?


This Trout Unlimited organization has a way of digging real deep inside you (in a good way) if you let it.  So many good people, doing so many good things.  It takes courage to show up at that first meeting (and even more courage to come back to the second), but for those who stick with it, the rewards are bountiful.  “If you take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself”.


The fish, we should be fishing!  Back in the water goes the line.  Soon enough, a 13” brown trout is brought to hand.  I wet my hand, then gently lift it from the water.  My daughter dips her finger in the creek and gives the trout a “one finger touch” along the lateral line.  We make a clean release, then watch for a minute as it hugs close to the bank before disappearing back into the depths of the pool.


Children learn quickly that success brings rewards, and my daughter was soon swinging on the tree swing that she had been eyeing up since we arrived.  Few things can match the joy of an ear-to-ear grin on a four year old, and the sound of the water rushing thru the riffles in the trout stream nearby made this a near-perfect moment.     


Our TU President, Chris Wood, was recently quoted as saying that “Public lands are the best idea America ever had”.  Let’s be the best stewards we can be of this principle – our kids and grandkids will surely thank us someday.