WATAUGA COUNTY — One projects and two studies in Watauga County worth more than $340,000 were funded by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the agency announced in mid-September.
The projects were all submitted by New River Conservancy, a West Jefferson-based nonprofit focused on the conservation and restoration of the New River.
The N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund is a non-regulatory organization with a focus on protecting and restoring the state’s land and water resources. The organization awards grants annually all across the state. In 2019, it awarded more than $14 million to more than 30 projects.
The three NRC projects selected for funding include phase two restoration of the South Fork New River near Brookshire Park, studying the restoration of the Middle Fork New River north of Blowing Rock and studying the restoration of the section of Winkler’s Creek that goes from Boone Mall to Friendship Honda along Blowing Rock Road in Boone.
Phase two of restoring the streambank of the South Fork New River near Brookshire Park , which was awarded $275,000, follows the completion of phase one during the summer.
The restoration process includes sloping gentler grades along the riverbanks and planting native vegetation to grow into a riparian buffer zone, preventing future erosion into the river and helping to mitigate flooding during periods of heavy rain, NRC River Restoration Director Chelsea Blount said in October 2018, when the project first began.
NRC President George Santucci said the grant funding came as a result of cooperation by both Watauga County and the town of Boone, which each pledged $100,000 to match funds for the project.
“This is the last money we were looking for to get that project started,” Santucci said of the South Fork New River project. “We’re not just waiting on contracts, and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund won’t have that until December or January. But once we have contracts in hand, we can begin construction on phase two.”
Santucci said that in addition, Boone is contributing acreage to be reforested on the Bolick property, which is the land across the river from Brookshire Park.
“It’ll restore a habitat and provide the opportunity for people to see a fully-wooded buffer,” Santucci said.
A $40,000 study project to determine the next steps for restoring parts of the Middle Fork New River along U.S. 321 north of Blowing Rock was funded as well.
Santucci said Wendy Patoprsty of the Middle Fork Greenway project contacted him about the potential of restoring the the streambanks, specifically noting the erosion behind Blowing Rock’s water treatment plant where a fence is leaning toward the river.
The design work will focus on the area of the river up past the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“The bulk of serious restoration is north of the Blue Ridge Parkway; that’s where it is really bad, the lower end needs vegetation and minor restoration work,” Santucci said.
Santucci noted the project has the full support of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the town of Blowing Rock.
The study would determine what work needs to be done, and funding for that work could come in 2020.
“Wendy would love to see restoration in parallel before (the Middle Fork Greenway Section 1) gets built out there,” Santucci said.
A $27,100 study on Winkler’s Creek, also known as the lower Boone Creek area, from Boone Mall to Friendship Honda along Blowing Rock Road, will determine the amount of restoration and stabilization needed throughout the stretch.
“It’s a beautiful trout stream,” Santucci said.
Any potential work would require work with multiple land owners along the route of the creek and potentially spawn multiple restoration projects, Santucci said.
The High Country Council of Governments is also involved in the Winkler’s Creek design project, applying for their own funding grant.
One project the NRC didn’t get immediately funded is the $315,000 Kirby Farm/Helton Creek restoration in Ashe County. According to the funding list, the project is seventh on the provisional priority list and would require a new state budget, which has been in a standstill since July, to fund up to $2.5 million worth of projects ahead of it on the priority list.
Santucci said the Helton Creek work would include more than 3,000 feet of trout stream and said the land owner wants NRC to do the restoration.