Theaux LeGardeur

Theaux LeGardeur stands near Western Run Creek along Thornton Mill Road, which is near a proposed gas pipeline crossing. The creek feeds into Loch Raven reservoir, which concerns environmentalists. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / December 22, 2013)

Within a four-hour radius of the Gunpowder River area live 16 million people, said Theaux Le Gardeur, owner of Backwater Angler in Monkton. A 1977 series in The Evening Sun called the Gunpowder "The River You Drink."

"This is such a vital local treasure," Le Gardeur said. For him, protecting the river, pictured in many maps within Backwater Angler, is a priority.

In 2010, he had an awakening after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. Ever since, he has led the nonprofit Gunpowder Riverkeeper organization to protect the area through regulation. County zoning has helped, he said, by preventing further development near the river.

"He's doing that so many of us can discover that and have the opportunities to enjoy and discover nature," bamboo-rod maker Jerry Kustich said. "Nature is where the human being can get in touch with his or her core spirit. … We're not that far removed from being a hunter-gatherer."

Le Gardeur said brook trout, which have populated the river since the last ice age, are an indicator of water quality. Unlike many metropolitan-area streams that are stocked with fish, the Gunpowder is wild and "self-sustaining."

"If you think about it, trout are really made of trees," he said, alluding to how the fish use the shade and cover of trees and how their leaves feed the insects that feed the fish.

"The Gunpowder [is] absolutely perfect," Kustich said. "If people aren't using a bamboo rod on the Gunpowder, they're sort of missing the point. Again, that's said from the viewpoint of a guy who sells them."