Mark Henderson always knew he would eventually re-open the Montgomery County trout farm his grandfather once operated. He just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
“Yeah, I had planned to do this for my retirement,” Henderson says, “but things didn’t exactly work out that way.” A two-story fall from a ladder in 2008 abruptly ended Henderson’s successful career as a commercial refrigeration mechanic. He was seriously injured, breaking both heels. Doctors even questioned if he would ever walk again.
“I went through a really rough stage there for a while,” recalls Henderson. “I had been used to working long hours every day, traveling up and down the east coast and always being on the go. After my accident, I basically lived in a hospital bed in my living room for two years and, of course, I struggled with the whole male thing of not being able to provide for my family. So, it was a very difficult time.”
Henderson says the birth of his youngest son – who was born prematurely – finally helped give him the motivation he needed to turn things around. “When you can literally hold your child in the palm of your hand, and you see that they’re fighting to survive, that kind of puts everything else in perspective.”
As he gradually regained his strength and mobility, Henderson and his wife, Laura, put a plan of action into place that cleared the way for Mill Creek Trout Farm to open once again. That was April 1, 2014. Now in its third year of operation, Henderson says continuing the family business has been rewarding for a number of reasons.
“I grew up on this farm so it’s nice to be carrying on my grandfather’s tradition,” he explains. “Plus, it’s given me a way to earn an income. My first year into this, it surprised me how many people want to fish, but don’t know how – and I’m talking both kids and their parents. So, I’ve really enjoyed teaching and watching them learn together. I think that’s where I’ve found my niche.”
Henderson points out that Mill Creek – which features two creek-fed ponds – is not open to the public. Instead, customers are required to make reservations for either two- or four-hour passes, giving them private access to the property’s trout pond and catch-and-release pond. “It’s really important to us that we can offer families or groups a private experience. Kids can run loose here, and parents can let their guard down for a bit because they’re the only ones around.”
Henderson also takes pride in the fact that his ponds are naturally sustained in a clean, green environment. The property is also accessible for individuals with disabilities and mobility issues. A self-professed weather buff and avid outdoorsman, Henderson has a difficult time curbing his enthusiasm when discussing the concept of using the farm as a classroom. “I probably should have been a science teacher. We live in nature – we’re surrounded by it – so we might as well understand it. I was raised outside, so I want to give back what I know and share that with others.”
The Hendersons routinely host 4-H groups and Scout troops at Mill Creek and have planned a week-long summer day camp for children ages 5 – 13 this year. Aside from managing operations at Mill Creek, Henderson stays busy keeping up with his own children. Laura still has a full-time job as a public relations professional at Virginia Tech. “I was not meant to be a stay-at-home dad – or so I thought. If you told me 25 years ago that I would be doing that and running this trout farm, I would have said you were crazy…but I’m thankful every day now that my feet hurt.”
“I believe that I’ve been given a second chance, and I’m grateful for that. I have four awesome kids, a beautiful and amazing wife, and I’ve been able to find my calling. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Henderson muses.
Text by Mike Wade | Photos by Kristie Lea Photography
Mike Wade is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. He has worked as both a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. He freelances as a writer, graphic designer and portrait artist.