BLOWING ROCK — Restoration is set to begin on July 20 at the Payne Branch hydroelectric dam, located just south of Boone off of Payne Branch Road, thanks to a $1,177,000 grant awarded to New River Light and Power in February, which will be used to complete environmental restoration of the Payne Branch area, including a section of the Middle Fork New River.
According to Chris Nault, public communications specialist of NRLP, the restoration project is a collaborative effort among NRLP, the Resource Institute, Appalachian State University’s Sponsored Programs Office and the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which provided the grant.
During the project, “substantial remnants of the dam will be removed, restoring approximately 1,200 linear feet of the river and adjacent wetland areas,” the project summary states.
Nault says that efforts will specifically include removing invasive plant species, reconnecting the area to the existing floodplain, removing 20,000 tons of sediment, which is equivalent to 1,250 truckloads, and enhancing the existing stream banks.
The dam, which was used from 1924 until 1972, has caused increased stormwater flow into the river, along with sediment buildup, which has impacted the quality of the water habitat.
On June 22, the Blue Ridge Conservancy announced that it has been awarded $10,000 for the development of the Middle Fork Greenway Project, which includes “improved access to Payne Branch Park … which will eventually connect to the Middle Fork Greenway,” the conservancy stated.
Wendy Patoprsty, director of the Middle Fork Greenway, said that the Payne Branch Park is “currently a county-owned public access park at the Payne Branch dam location” that will see improvements after construction and restoration is completed on the surrounding area.
“With the funding Blue Ridge Conservancy received from AppHealthCare, we will make it public access-friendly again, when they are done removing the dam and restoring the river. This will probably be a year or more from now, and we will install the amenities back at the park,” Patoprsty said.
Amenities will include benches, a picnic table, a small footbridge and signage.
The Resource Institute, based out of Winston-Salem, has launched a website to provide residents of the Payne Branch area with construction updates and alternate routes.
“Residents should expect traffic delays due to construction vehicles crossing and turning along the road to access the project site. A flagger and signage will be present during the times required, and residents are asked to drive slower and stay alert. Residents are also encouraged to use the alternative routes detailed in the map to avoid delays,” the website states.
Drivers traveling to Boone can use Deck Hill and Greenway road to avoid construction delays, and those traveling to Blowing Rock should detour Hwy. 321 S. using Flat Top and Edmisten roads, according to the Research Institute.
The most recent update from the Resource Institute is from July 6, announcing the start date of the project. To view the website, visit https://www.resourceinstituteinc.org/payne-branch-construction.