This according to Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump, who explained the city has already met with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to identify the site where the campground and boat landing are to be located on Digg’s Tract.
“They eventually will own that property, and once they have the deed to the land, they will allow us to establish the campground and boat landing,” Crump said. “We’ve already met with them to identify the site.”
He went on to explain there will be a buffer zone established around the camping area for hunting, to ensure the safety of those who camp there.
Meanwhile, officials from the non-profit American Rivers organization are touting the Steele’s Mill Dam removal along the Rockingham waterway as a “first of it’s kind project in the state” they’d like to build on.
American Rivers River Restoration Program Assistant Director Serena McClain called the Hitchcock Creek project “a good kind of well-balanced project.”
“For one, there actually weren’t that many dams removed in North Carolina this year, and Hitchcock Creek is actually a tributary to the Pee Dee River, which is a valuable resource for the state of North Carolina,” McClain said. “But really, it was just a great all-around project where the community was really involved in restoring the waterway.”
She pointed out the City of Rockingham’s participation in the project was key to getting it done.
“The town was really kind of forward-thinking in their way of looking at Hitchcock Creek,” McClain continued. “They were looking at not only restoring a natural resource, and letting the fish run, but also at opening up opportunities for recreation there, drawing tourism and jump-starting that segment of their economy.”
She discussed Rockingham’s long-term goal of creating a blue trail to the Pee Dee River, and the unique quality of the project and said the group had discussed the potential removal of the Midway Dam upstream from Steele’s Mill.
However, Crump pointed out the existing dam is owned by Cascades Moulded Pulp and Tissue Group, and is still used in its industrial process, meaning the city will seek to create a portage site around it.
McClain also said results from the environmental impact of this type of project are usually more or less immediate.
“It varies from river to river, and really depends on how degraded the system was beforehand and the particular stresses on that system,” she said. “But, generally, we begin to see results within a year.”
She said $75,000 in grant-funding has been made available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for monitoring of Hitchcock Creek. American Rivers Southeast Regional Director Garrett Jobsis is heading up this work.
“The grant basically funds about two more years of monitoring,” Jobsis said, explaining the funding comes from the federal coffers. “There will essentially be two parts of the monitoring process we will be doing to determine the effects of the removal of the dam.”
He said the first phase has already begun, and concerns the effects of the removal on the actual channel the water flows through.
“First, we’ll be looking at the stream channel itself, to see what sediments are being deposited,” he said. “Basically, how silt and sand are flowing down the river.”
He said a survey was done in September, and they are currently processing the data.
Jobsis went onto explain the second part concerns the fish.
“We’ll be doing fish surveys in the springs of 2010 and 2011,” he said.
American Shad and River Herring are two native breeds of fish the group is interested in monitoring, Jobsis said.
“They typically come from the ocean in the spring and spawn in the rivers, then return to the ocean to live out their life cycle,” he said.
He explained the fish surveys will be done using an electro-fishing technique that stuns the fish, so they can be netted, surveyed and released into the water.
As for the fishing opportunities this should create - “It should be great,” Jobsis predicted.
“The American Shad in particular is a fish that is really fun to catch,” he said. “It jumps, it fights and they can get pretty big. A five- or six-pounder would be a really big one, but they get some size on them.”
“We’re pretty excited about this, and it’s the first time we’ve taken on a project like this in North Carolina,” Jobsis said. “First, we were able to use $40,000 in grant-funding from NOAA to help the city with the cost to remove the dam, then we were able to get this $75,000 grant ...
“Our goal is to grow the dam removal progress in North Carolina, so we can have many more cases like we did in Rockingham, to take down these derelict dams, to partner with communities and create fishing and paddling opportunities across the state.”
“We will continue to work with partnering agencies like American Rivers and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to see this project through to its completion,” Crump said.
He said American Rivers will also be working to help the city create the canoeing trail in the near future.
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.