Efforts to create a 10-mile canoe trail from Roberdel Dam to the Pee Dee River could soon kick into high gear, Rockingham city officials were told this week.
Matt Rice with the group American Rivers and City Planner John Massey spoke to the Rockingham City Council Tuesday night. After a closed session, the city board voted to spend $52,613 on 1.8 acres at Roberdel Dam that can be used as a place for people to put their canoes into the water.
Some form of the Hitchcock Creek “Blue Trail” has been on the drawing boards for almost a decade. A key element was the removal of the 100-year-old Steele’s Mill Dam so water — and canoeists — could flow freely downstream. The demolition took place late last year and involved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
While just about half of the Hitchcock Creek trail actually runs through the City of Rockingham, the city has championed efforts by the state and conservation groups who want to protect and enhance the creek for people to enjoy.
Rice said one of the attractions of Hitchcock Creek is that it is a small, “intimate” body of water that flows through an urban setting and still has its natural charm. Hitchcock flows by settlements where early residents lived and Rockingham’s history began.
“Rivers, especially in the Southeast, tell our story,” Rice said.
Before Tuesday night’s vote, the city has spent about $50,000 toward Hitchcock Creek, City Manager Monty Crump told the board. Other groups have invested about $1 million to acquire land adjacent to it and remove the dam.
Some property owners along the creek are coming forward and offering to donate land for the project.
“From just reading it in the paper, we’ve found people who want to participate,” Crump said.
While most of the Hitchcock Creek project involves only a narrow strip of land, the trail would culminate in an area known as the Diggs Tract on the Pee Dee River. The tract encompasses 1,600 acres and a small part of that is being considered for a primitive camping area where canoeists could stop for the night.
The camping area is on a high bluff that overlooks the river.
“It’s got one of the most spectacular views you could see anywhere,” Mayor Gene McLaurin said.
To make the project work, areas will have to be developed where canoeists can put their boat in or take it out. Debris, like fallen trees that block the stream, would also have to be removed. One study estimated there were almost 100 areas that would have been cleaned out along the 10-mile stretch in order to make it passable for a canoe. There are also some larger obstacles, like the remains of an old railroad bridge located above Steele’s Mill that will have to be taken out.
Some of the work could be done in-house by city maintenance crews, Crump said. He pointed out virtually all of the Hinson Lake project was done by city staff.
The Hitchcock Creek project should spur economic development, Rice said. Money could be made in the renting and sales of canoes and equipment, the board was told.
Rice stressed that protecting the river from development and pollution is a key element.
“Protect what you can while you can,” Rice said.
Peter Williams can be reached at 997-3111, extension 18 or by e-mail at email@example.com.