Bennett Wood of Darien was a well-loved senior at Fairfield University eyeing graduation and a new job in Idaho as a fisheries aid when he died in February at age 23. A chapter of the national conservation group Trout Unlimited aims to keep alive the young man’s legacy: to protect the rivers and fisheries in Connecticut that Ben loved. The Bennett Wood Stewardship Fund will support local summer internships and river restoration projects, many of which Ben himself designed.
“He lit a fire under us to engage youth on a different level. We’ll be providing them opportunities to drive work forward and take leadership of a project,” says Jeff Yates, who directs national volunteer operations for TU, an organization that’s akin to the Audubon Society, but for fish instead of birds. Yates got to know Ben and his dad, Bruce, when the pair joined a chapter fishing trip to the Delaware River. “There was something special about Ben,” Yates says. “Most kids his age come to us because they say they want to fish all summer. He kept trying to bend my ear about conservation. He was serious about learning. It was clear that this work of conservation spoke to Ben.”
Ben fell in love with fly-fishing in 2012, his mother says, when he and his best friends worked at a dude ranch. “They had this old Jeep and they would drive all over Wyoming to find places to fish. He just loved it,” says Kendall Wood, who has spent many summer days boating and fishing with her family in Long Island Sound. She says that Ben, the youngest of her four children, was a solitary sportsman who enjoyed fishing, rock-climbing and mountain biking. He spent hours tying flies for fly-casting. When he and his brother camped together at Glacier National Park, Ben caught fifty trout to his brother’s five.
Ben began college at Bucknell University, where he studied animal behavior. But the lure of fishing tugged and he transferred to Fairfield University, where he changed his major to biology and environmental studies. He asked Yates if TU could use an intern for the summer. “Ben ate it up. He was learning, he was growing and he was doing important, science-driven work.”
As an intern Ben walked more than seventy stream crossings in the Beaverkill/ Willowemoc watershed in the Catskills, assessing and measuring. In Connecticut, he planned and executed restoration projects for the Norwalk River as well as the trout-spawning hot-spot Jack’s Brook along the Shepaug River. Because of Ben’s work, “thousands of miles of trout stream will be reopened,” Yates says. “The impact he made for TU was incalculable.”
How to Donate
To continue Ben’s legacy, give to the Bennett Wood Stewardship Fund, c/o Mianus Trout Unlimited, Box 475, Wilton, CT 06897; mianustu.org
The last project that Ben planned for his Trout Unlimited chapter was a restoration planting on the Norwalk River in Wilton. Volunteers say they will carry out that work, tearing out invasive species and then installing a buffer to stabilize the riverbank and to keep it cool and shady, the better for trout and those fishing for them.