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National Committee for New River continues awareness, prevention programs

This stretch of property along Old Field Creek is the latest beneficiary of one of the NCNR's
many programs geared toward restoration and erosion control.

Originally published: Nov. 14, 2012
Last modified: Nov. 14, 2012

Jesse Campbell

Often times, landowners who have property that adjoins the New River and supporting stream systems will try to spruce up the banks by clearing away the jumbled mess of shrubbery and vegetation that it covers. 

While they may think they are beautifying the banks and waterway, this is actually seen as a disservice by conservationists. 

What may look like a thicket of untamed growth to the well-intended landowner is in reality, a natural barrier against erosion, conservation officials say.

Lynn Caldwell, restoration director for the National Committee for the New River, said it is the root system of these indigenous plants that prevents the waterways from quickly chiseling away at the banks. 

Caldwell said it is when unknowing landowners try to groom the banks by mowing or weed eating the shrubs is when they upset the root system.

Traditional agricultural practices and logging in Ashe County has unintentionally played a role in bankside erosion, said Caldwell.  

Over time, this can lead to erosion along with altering the natural flow of the stream, which plays a bigger role in impacting the river it feeds into including an excessive deposit of sediment. 

When erosion gets to a certain point, landowners have contacted NCNR to help restore the banks. 

By undergoing a process of what they call ‘sloping,' Caldwell said officials could decrease the incline of the jagged bank and lowering the crest therefore renewing the stream's access to the floodplain. 

This allows the water to slowly creep up the bank instead of quickly thrashing against its sides, furthering eroding the riverside, and then receding. 

Caldwell said it is when the water is allowed to recede in a slower, more natural manner, it can spread and the area acts like a reservoir.

Slower water also means less floodwaters to the river in the event of heavy rains. 

During the whole process, Caldwell said crews must plant new vegetation along the way and not allow the barren earth to sit unprotected. 

Restoration crews have also installed one of several in-stream structures known as a “rock vein,” explained Caldwell. 

A rock vein consists of a protruding and submerged line of rocks that is aimed upstream.

A rock vein works to push the main flow of water away from the banks and toward the middle of the creek or river,” said Caldwell. 

Caldwell said this also prevents the deepest part of the stream from running alongside the bank. 

These types of restoration efforts were recently applied to Old Fields Creek, near the confluence of the South Fork of the New River. 

A Jan. 16, 2011, photograph of the affected area shows actively eroding section of the creek because, during the past 50 years, the flood plain and bank had been mowed for farming. 

By working with New River Soil and Water, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund — the largest funder of the project — and Trout Unlimited, the group of dedicated conservationists was able to reverse the erosion and restore the creek, said Caldwell. 

As part of the agreement, the landowners of the affected property agreed to put 50 feet of both sides of the creek under a conservation easement and are prohibited from mowing the protected area. 

NCNR also focuses on prevention programs so erosion can be stopped, preventing further damage. 

Since 1998, the committee has planted 77 miles of live stakes, which are planted on the banks during the dormant season, said Caldwell. 

These live stakes are two to three feet long and comprise the root system and a section of the trunk of silky dogwood and silky willow shrubbery. 

Caldwell said these are native shrubs that are planted into the banks to develop a root system, thus preventing further erosion. 

This type of shrub can reach six to 10 feet tall at maturity, said Caldwell. 

There is no easement requirement with this kind of project, but Caldwell said landowners must agree not to disturb the impacted area for 15 years and must enter into a cost share system that requires them to pay $100 for every 1,000 feet of restored bank side. 

Caldwell said this is considered “a good deal” for the landowner, because in many instances these projects do not exceed 1,000 feet. 

“The presence of trees and shrubs provides deep root systems to hold the bank and maintain a gentle slope, shade for the river, habitat for birds and other wildlife, filter for fertilizer and other runoff,” said Caldwell. “The leaves provide food for the macro invertebrates on which fish feed.”

The challenge for NCNR, said Caldwell, is changing the way people view erosion and what constitutes as good landscaping. 

“What we would love to get across is to change the perception of what is considered pretty,” said Caldwell. “To have natural shrubbery, even though it is not well groomed, is very good for the river.”

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.