Trout, American Chestnuts, and Coal Creek Mining History:
9th Annual History/Ecology Field Trip for Briceville School

15 May 2009

Briceville students under the direction of their science teacher, Ms. Gladys Stooksbury, have been raising rainbow trout from eggs in an indoor hatchery and American chestnuts in an indoor nursery.  During the 9th annual history/ecology field trip for the 4th and 5th graders, trout were released to Coal Creek and American chestnut seedlings were planted near the abandoned Fraterville Mine. 

Approximately 100 trout fry were released at each of the locations as follows: 

bulletSlatestone Creek where it drains into Coal Creek at Briceville School
bulletCoal Creek at Joe Day Bridge between Lake City and Briceville, and
bulletRight Fork of Coal Creek at First Baptist Church in Lake City

TWRA's Duane Oyer and Clinch River
Trout Unlimited
President John Thurman
assist with releasing the first batch of baby
trout raised by Briceville students into Coal
Creek which runs right beside their school

Briceville students surround Principal Karen Cupples
on the banks of Coal Creek to watch the release
of the trout babies

Students from the entire school participated in the release of the trout at the school, and the 4th and 5th grade classes released the trout at Joe Day Bridge and the Right Fork of Coal Creek.

The temperature of Coal Creek today ranged from 60 to 62 degrees F at the locations tested, compared to a hatchery temperature of 55 degrees F.  Within the next month or so, Coal Creek will warm to the point where the fry will need to migrate downstream to the Clinch River tailwater to survive.  The Right Fork of Coal Creek is spring-fed, so water temperature there should remain within the survivable range for most, if not all, of the year. 

Our goal is for some of the trout fry released to Coal Creek to return to spawn after they grow into adults. Before releasing trout to Coal Creek, impacts to the native species were considered.  As part of our planning, fisheries biologists from TVA, TWRA, and UT were consulted to verify that our proposed release locations should not adversely impact native species, particularly those species involved in the on-going Coal Creek Fish Restoration Project


Briceville 4th & 5th graders watch as Duane Oyer
releases another batch of trout babies
at the Joe Day Bridge in Coal Creek

Trout release location in the Right Fork of Coal Creek

Just think about the celebration we can have at a future Coal Creek Health Day event when we find rainbow trout fry, along with fry of native species (i.e. rainbow darter, telescope shiner, Tennessee shiner, and warpaint shiner) re-introduced by UT’s Joyce Coombs and Erin Schiding over the past two years.

Briceville students planting an American
chestnut seedling at the site of the Fraterville
mine portal where 216 miners died after
the 19 May 1902 explosion

After releasing the trout fry, students hiked to the abandoned Fraterville Mine portal where 216 miners died after the 19 May 1902 explosion.  Two years after the Fraterville disaster, Chinese chestnuts were imported for planting in a park in New York City.  Unknown at the time, the Chinese chestnut carries a fungus that proved fatal to the American chestnut.  By the mid-1900s, the American chestnut was nearly eliminated as a species during the American chestnut blight pandemic.

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is developing a hybrid that is 94% American chestnut and 6% Chinese chestnut.  The hybrid will retain the virtues of the American chestnut as a large forest tree with a sweet-tasting nut, but with the blight-resistance of its Chinese cousin.  

In honor of the miners who died at Fraterville, we planted pure American chestnut seedlings that students grew in their indoor nursery over the past 3 months.  We are experimenting with planting techniques and locations using the pure American chestnuts to gain experience for the day when blight-resistant hybrids are ready for planting. 

After a trip to Cracker Barrel for lunch, students ended their field trip at Briceville Cemetery where miners from both the Fraterville Mine Disaster of 1902 and the Cross Mountain Mine Disaster of 1911 are buried.  At the headstone of brothers Taylor and Eugene Ault, students learned how engineers and apparatus crews from the U.S. Bureau of Mines rescued 5 miners at Cross Mountain, but 84 miners perished before they could be rescued. 

Coal Creek Watershed Foundation President
Barry Thacker PE, gives the students a history
lesson at the headstones of brothers Taylor &
Eugene Ault in Briceville Cemetery

View from Eugene & Taylor Ault's headstone
looking down on Briceville Church and cemetery

Before he died in the Cross Mountain Mine, Eugene Ault left a farewell message written on a barricade wall that said:

Dear Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters, I guess I come to die.  Well I started out and come to the side track and Alonzo Wood is with me.  Air is not much now.  Well, all be good and I aim to pray to God to save me and all of you.  Tell Clarence to wear out my clothes, give him my trunk.  I guess I'll never be with you any more.  So goodbye.  Give them all my love.  Give Bessie Robbins a stickpin of mine.  Tell her goodbye.

Eugene Ault’s farewell message is inscribed on his headstone.

Some of the American chestnuts grown from seed by the students will be allowed to grow in their pots until fall, when we will plant them in Briceville during our annual Coal Creek Health Day event.

So why are students wearing bandanas?  Coal Creek miners fought the Tennessee Militia over the use of convict labor in the mines during the Coal Creek War from 1891 to 1892.  Miners wore bandanas to show they were in the miners' army.  We wear bandanas during our history field trips as the miners did during their war.

Click on images to
view more photos:

Trout babies
raised from eggs
by Briceville students

Lunch at
Cracker Barrel:


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