Little River Makes a Big Difference
November 6, 2013
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUpDsn0sXYs (new: March 3, 2013)
Little River Makes Big Difference
Removal of the Smitherman’s Mill Dammakes it possible for fish, mussels and people to move freely up and down the river.
The Smitherman’s Mill Dam was the fourth obsolete dam removed within the Pee Dee River Basin in North Carolina within the last year. Barriers such as dams prevent aquatic species from accessing the full river system. Before the removal of Smitherman’s dam several aquatic species were found below the dam, but not many above. The Little River is home to a dozen rare and threatened freshwater mussel species and two rare fish, one known as the Carolina redhorse. These aquatic species are our “canaries in the coal mine,” serving as indicators of habitat quality.
About 1890, Jessie Cox Smitherman, founder of the Smitherman Cotton Mills, built the dam to produce cotton yarn. It was located north of the Troy-Candor Road in Montgomery County, a unique historical relic, but was a barrier to aquatic species, canoeist, boaters, anglers, and kayakers.
The Capel family donated the dam and property to the Town of Troy within the last few years. The town agreed to remove the dam to restore the river, improve safety, recreation, and environmental educational opportunities. Local historian Rosemary Huntley said, “I value the historical significance of the dam, but sometimes you have to let things go to allow nature to restore is course, especially to allow fish to migrate.”
“The river restoration fits well within our management plans for public recreation as well as restoring fish habitat,” said Mr. Roy J. Maness, Mayor of Troy, who was on site witnessing the event from a nearby bridge. “The Town of Troy will later dedicate this renovated public access area to allow recreationalists such as canoeists and anglers to use the river at the dedicated access point. Our vision is to connect this town property to the Troy Nature Trail which currently ends at NC HWY 24-27” said Mayor Maness.
On November 4, 2013, after a year of planning, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, American Rivers, Piedmont Conservation Council, and the Town of Troy got their wish. Heavy equipment forced the powerhouse of the dam to collapse. A second piece of equipment enlarged an existing breech on the opposite side of the dam to lower water flows from upstream. Once lowered, the removal team demolished the dam from the left bank to the right bank using two excavators - one mounted with a hydraulic hammer, and the other with a hydraulic thumb.
The dam remnants will be used to rebuild a new riparian shoreline to stabilize the bank. The riverbanks will be planted with native hardwoods such as river birch, oaks, and persimmon, and fruit-bearing shrubs. The plants will serve as a river buffer to prevent erosion and provide food and shelter for local songbirds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles such as box turtles. Buffers also protect our rivers and streams for aquatic life as well as our drinking water supplies by preventing pollution from entering our waters.
Reconnecting the upper Little River habitat will encourage reconnection of the entire Little River to the Pee Dee River in the future. Impacts caused by dams are particularly a problem in the Pee Dee River basin, which has according to the NC Dam Safety Program over 1,300 documented dams, and perhaps double that number of undocumented dams, said Peter Raabe, of American Rivers. “Denson’s Creek, the Uwharrie River, and the Little River are priority watersheds for freshwater conservation and restoration,” added Jacob Leach, Piedmont Conservation Council.
Smitherman’s Mill Dam is the fourth obstacle of its kind removed in the last 14 months. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the Town of Troy, worked to remove Troy Reservoir Dam No. 1 on Denson's Creek in September of 2012. These partners also worked with private landowners to remove Dynamo Dam in the Little River in 2012, and this September, Lassiter Mill Dam in the Uwharrie River, Randolph County.
By removing this massive concrete and rock wall at Smitherman’s dam, today we reconnected 5.4 main stem river miles and over 30 perennial tributary stream miles for a number of rare species in the Little River watershed,” explained Laura Fogo, biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our agency believes that if we strategically pursue conservation projects like this one, a very discrete action can have a huge landscape-scale benefit. One of our national goals is to connect people with nature. This renovated public access will provide this opportunity for those in the county who love the Little River. We are very fortunate to have a highly committed group of people that share this view. Internally, staff from Refuges, Fisheries, and two Ecological Services Offices shared their expertise. Externally, the Town of Troy, Piedmont Conservation Council and American Rivers have been key leaders and partners in this effort” added Fogo.