BOONE — Work to restore 2,800 feet of South Fork New River streambank beside Brookshire Park and Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex began in early October, according to the New River Conservancy, the nonprofit leading the project.
“This stretch of riverbank is really bad,” said NRC River Builder Coordinator Chelsea Blount. “Ever since Boone’s population exploded in recent years, all the impervious surfaces — all the development and concrete — is sending a lot more storm water downstream, contributing a lot of sediment. It’s so denuded — the riverbanks were totally falling in.”
According to Blount, the conservancy applied for grants from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund in 2016 to help finance the more than $500,000 project — in addition to petitioning for funds from other governmental agencies — and finally received clearance from landowners and the town of Boone to begin restoration work this October.
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, Blount said. Plants used will include silky dogwood, silky willow, buttonbush, elderberry, ninebark and other native plants that like to keep their roots wet, Blount said.
In addition to erosion and flood control, the restored riverbank will improve aquatic habitats and the biological health of the water, as well as expand recreational access to the South Fork New River, Blount said.
“This one’s a great project, because a lot of the projects we do are strictly from the point of what’s good for the river and what’s good for the critters, but this one kind of hits both people and critters,” Blount said. “We’re looking at creating a habitat for fish and wildlife, but we’re also improving access — if you wanted to get down into the South Fork from Brookshire or Ted Mackorell before, you were walking down some steep muddy deer path, but with this project we’ve identified a couple sites where we want to put some rock structures in that will provide great, safe access for people looking to fish, or tube or just hang out next to the river.”
At the latest, the riverbank restoration project will be finished in July 2019, according to Blount, but she hopes the project will be completed in the spring.
“I don’t believe we should interrupt the greenway (trail), if at all,” Blount said. “I don’t anticipate it interrupting any sort of recreation out there, but there’s a potential in at least one spot that I know of — we’ll kind of have to see when we get there.”
Other partners working with New River Conservancy on the riverbank restoration project include Watauga County, the town of Boone, Resource Institute and private landowners who agreed to conservation easements on the banks of their riverside property, Blount said. Brushy Fork Environmental Consulting, based in Mountain City, Tenn., is the contractor.
“We have been looking at this degraded stretch of river for decades now,” said Brushy Fork Environmental Consulting Owner Adam Williams. “We are so proud to be a part of its restoration.”
Watauga County Planning and Economic Development Director Joe Furman said the streambank restoration project will have a significant positive impact for the county and those who use the greenway.
“Restoration and stabilization of the stream banks will prevent future undermining of the greenway by the banks eroding and creeping towards it — the county has previously had to address this problem,” Furman said. “The South Fork New River itself will benefit from the project because it will protect the stream banks from eroding into and degrading the river.”