A private land owner in Alleghany County and the National Park Service/Blue Ridge Parkway recently worked with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to improve trout habitat and stabilize eroding stream banks on Meadow Fork near Laurel Springs, N.C. Completed last September through a $6,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this habitat conservation project established a riparian buffer along both sides of the stream, improved trout habitat through installation of rock weirs and vanes, created an oxbow pool for amphibian habitat and reduced sedimentation from severely eroding banks. In addition, the work on Meadow Fork effectively eliminated livestock access to 1,262 linear feet of the stream channel while providing limited stream access at two livestock crossings.
"Completion of this project has improved stream aesthetics and resulted in a more stable stream dimension, pattern and profile," said Joe Mickey, stream mitigation coordinator for the Wildlife Resources Commission. "We're pleased that we were able to come in under budget and yet meet all of our project goals."
A total of $4528.51 was spent from the $6,000 USFWS grant. Mickey worked with stream mitigation technician Madelyn Martinez to supervise construction of the project and install fencing with the landowner, Billy Shepard. In addition, Shepard donated about 24 hours of his time to install fence. He also provided a tractor with an auger for digging postholes. The National Park Service/Blue Ridge Parkway donated 50 locust posts for brace posts.
"Cooperative ventures like these are important because local, state and federal agencies and private citizens work as a team with the goal of restoring a particular body of water to a more natural condition," Mickey said. "Man has profoundly impacted rivers and streams; therefore, it is important that an interdisciplinary approach be used in the restoration effort."
The habitat conservation project was initiated when a section of Meadow Fork was identified as needing bank stabilization and livestock exclusion. This section of Meadow Fork had severely eroding banks and very little woody riparian zone vegetation. Channel instability at the site resulted in loss of land, increased stream sedimentation and thermal pollution. Continual grazing of the riparian zone had suppressed growth of small tag alders along the stream and had instead maintained a grass and forb community along the stream's banks.
Before the Meadow Fork project began, Mickey first obtained permission from Shepard and the National Park Service to conduct the habitat conservation work on their property. Then he secured the grant from USFWS. One of the main features of the habitat conservation project included construction of a new 120-foot meander with a pool and riffle sequence to eliminate a poor-patterned meander that was causing severe bank erosion. Part of the old channel was left as an oxbow pool to provide amphibian habitat. In other stretches of Meadow Fork, Mickey and Martinez stabilized eroding stream banks with a combination of root wads, rock vanes and rock weirs. They also graded a particularly steep and eroding the stream bank, resulting in a much more stabilized 1:1 bank sloping.
During construction, new or disturbed stream banks were revegetated with sod mats salvaged from the site. Sod mats provided instant stream bank stabilization and a source of native seed plant materials. Exposed soils not covered by sod mats were reseeded with a mixture of bowntop millet, winter rye and winter wheat. As a follow-up, silky willow and silky dogwood cuttings are being planted along Meadow Fork this winter.
Livestock were excluded from 1,262 linear feet of the stream by a three-strand barbed wire fence, with livestock crossings constructed at the upper end of the project and at the mid-point of the fenced section.
"Fence installation was critical because it resulted in a protected riparian zone that averaged 22.7 feet along both sides of the stream," Mickey said. "About 800 linear feet of stream channel were not fenced by this project, but the National Park Service/Blue Ridge Parkway plans to fence this section of Meadow Fork in 2001. We're hoping that the fencing will foster growth among the small streamside tag alders that previously have been suppressed by livestock grazing."
Follow-up work will include photos from established reference points to monitor the recovery of these tag alders for the next five years as they mature and provide stream shading. In addition, the stream's new channel profile will be monitored to determine if any changes are occurring towards a return to a more unstable condition (down cutting, deposition, erosion) or if any changes are occurring that represent an increase in stability (settling, vegetative changes, decrease in width/depth ratio).
Mickey and Martinez conducted this habitat conservation project on Meadow Fork under USFWS Grant #1448-40181-97-G-067. A copy of Mickey's final report can be obtained by calling the Commission at (919) 733-3633.