The Hitchcock Creek plans being developed by the City of Rockingham include the imminent creation of a new 10-mile blue trail from Ledbetter Lake to the Pee Dee River. There are also plans for a primitive camping ground along Hitchcock Creek.
A blue trail is the aquatic equivalent of a hiking trail. The idea is to allow people to boat, canoe or kayak the waterway.
“This isn’t just about removing a dam, it’s about revitalizing Hitchcock Creek into an even greater asset for our community,” Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin was quoted in a press release. “We are excited about the creation of a new blue trail, and the economic, recreation and quality of life rewards that it will bring. Soon, a healthy Hitchcock Creek will be a source of pride for all of us, and residents and visitors alike will be able to reap the benefits.”
Throughout the Southeast, “micropolitan” communities like Rockingham have begun to emphasize tourism centered around eco-systems, agriculture and cultural heritage to draw visitors, and their cash, into their communities.
Originally built in the late-1800’s, the 110-year-old dam was once used to generate power for a cotton mill. It later fell into disuse.
The dam’s removal will restore the natural habitat of several species of fish, including the hickory shad, blueback herring, striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon, according the non-profit group American Rivers.
American Rivers is a leading advocacy group for healthy rivers. Founded in 1973, it has more than 65,000 members and supporters, with the stated purpose of protecting and restoring the nation’s rivers to benefit of the people, wildlife and natural landscape.
“The bulk of the work could be done in a little more than an hour,” American Rivers Director of North Conservation Peter Raabe said. “The big question for the contractors have for tomorrow is if they’ll have to bring in extra equipment to break the dam up.”
He said the work will begin with an excavator. Hopefully, the dam will be pulled down with it, but if it isn’t the workers will use a pneumatic hammer extension to break the dam into pieces.
“One of the coolest things about working on these projects is the moment when the dam comes down,” Raabe continued. “You get to see a river running free, in this case for the first time in over a 100 years. That’s one of the things that makes working on river restoration very rewarding.”
The organization says this effort is expected to boost the overall health of Hitchcock Creek, which will result in cleaner, free-flowing water.
“This is the beginning of a great new chapter for Hitchcock Creek and nearby communities,” said American Rivers Southeast Regional Director Gerrit Jobsis. “Healthy rivers are the life-blood of our communities and it is hard to overstate the many benefits they provide. When we tear down old infrastructure like obsolete dams, we build up our natural infrastructure - the streams, wetlands and floodplains that give our communities essential services like clean water, flood protection and other economic benefits.”
He said the dam removal is indicative a state- and nation-wide trend to restore rivers.
“More than 140 dams in North Carolina are outdated or unsafe, and are eligible for removal,” Jobsis said. “This is an opportunity for other communities around the state to rid themselves of old, failing infrastructure and reap all the quality of life and economic benefits a healthy river provides.”
The removal of Steele’s Mill Dam is the result of efforts by the City of Rockingham, Pilotview Resource Conservation and Development of Winston Salem, Resource Institute Resource Conservation and Development, American Rivers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
You may learn more about American Rivers at www.AmericanRivers.org.