A Blair County man is our Person of the Year

Tyrone, Pa. — Bill Anderson spends much of his time on the Little Juniata River. If he is not fly-fishing for the river’s abundant wild brown trout, he is monitoring pollution or scouting out the next location for a habitat-improvement project. 

When he is not physically on the river, he is often at meetings or on the telephone advocating for the river.

“I’ve been fly-fishing the river year-round since I moved to the area from Delaware in 1978. When I retired in 2004, I gave it my full attention.”

Anderson has been the president of the Little Juniata River Association since 2004. Although he did not start the group, he has been a driving force for river conservation for the past decade. If something good is happening within the Little Juniata River watershed, then Bill Anderson and the Little Juniata River Association are likely involved.

The list of association accomplishments during Anderson’s tenure as president is extensive. However, Anderson is quick to point out that he did not accomplish this on his own.

The Little Juniata River Association has more than 260 members – many of whom are life members. Twenty-one members attended the group’s most recent business meeting, which was called to finalize plans for a litter cleanup involving over 150 people. Such participation is a reflection of their active, conservation-oriented membership that is inspired by Anderson. Sixteen new people have joined the association since Jan. 1.

“Bill Anderson is synonymous with the concept of ‘resource first,’” said Cliff Wurster, member and former director of the Little Juniata River Association.

“He is indefatigable when it comes to matters dealing with the Little Juniata watershed. Bill’s leadership pushed the association to identify problems along the river, develop collaborative relationships with businesses and agencies to partner in finding solutions, and then seek grants to fund the work. 

“When projects were scheduled, we always had plenty of volunteers, and President Bill was there cheerleading, coaching, and pitching in wherever needed.”

The association successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission to designate 14 miles of the river as catch and release – affording better protection to the river’s wild trout. Anderson also convinced the commission to conduct a study into the agency’s fingerling stocking program on the Little Juniata. 

The study demonstrated that 98 percent of the young trout in the river were wild. The fingerling stocking program was discontinued.

Anderson, almost single handedly, has secured 4.5 miles of permanent river access by working through the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and using a $200,000 grant.

The association has fought unwise development that could threaten the river. It was instrumental in brokering a deal that used mitigation funds acquired by Trout Unlimited to purchase a large spring and associated wetlands. The spring, the largest single source of cold water in the upper Little Juniata River watershed, is now owned by the Fish & Boat Commission, thanks to the efforts of Anderson and others.

New sections of the river and small tributaries have been surveyed for wild trout. Temperature probes have been installed in the river. The association’s habitat projects have repaired eight sites with severe erosion, totaling 1,400 feet of stream bank. They have also planted more than 1,000 trees and shrubs to restore riparian buffers.

What drives Anderson into making the protection and enhancement of the river an almost full-time job?

“Part of it is a selfish desire to have a really good place to fish for trout,” he explained. “However, I have a much stronger desire to give something back and to help insure that the river will be there for my grandchildren. I’ve been involved with the environmental movement since college.”

In recent years, Anderson and the Little Juniata River Association are no stranger to awards.  Just last year, Anderson was honored as a Field & Stream Heroes of Conservation finalist. He has also received awards from The Juniata Valley Audubon Society, the Blair County Conservation District, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, the Blair County Conservation Officers Association and Sen. John Eichelberger.  

“Although the awards were handed to me, I view them as an affirmation of the success that the Little Juniata River Association is having with the river. I hope that each award helps to make more people aware of the river and its potential.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Anderson and the river association are busy taking river conservation to the next level. Their spring 2015 plans includes the $7,000 purchase of 24 radio transmitters and tagging a like number of mature wild brown trout in the river. The transmitters and receiver arrived March 10.  This will be a joint research project with Juniata College.

“What we learn from this study will answer many questions about how wild trout behave in the river,” Anderson said at a meeting earlier this month. “Where do they spawn? Where do they go when the water gets too warm? The knowledge gained will help direct our management of the river.”  

Another 2015 project is the removal and relocation of wild brown trout from one river tributary that is primarily a native brook trout stream.

A 2016 project, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, will involve enlisting association volunteers to conduct a massive angler-use survey on the river. Such a survey would determine how many people fish there and help to establish an economic value of the river.   

“The river couldn’t have a better friend and advocate than Bill Anderson,” Wurster said.  “Darn little happens on or along the Little Juniata without him learning about it.”

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