LANSING-While it’s nowhere near complete, the project to restore Big Horse Creek is already paying off, according to project officials.
The banks along some 700 feet of Big Horse Creek have been reworked and now gently slope toward the creek and the same stretch of ground now features only native plant species.
Rocks and boulders have also been planted at strategic locations in the waterway itself to channel the powerful current away from the creek’s bank, which had been badly undercut prior to the restoration.
And Lansing Mayor Dylan Lightfoot said those same rocks – the arrangements are officially called cross vanes and rock vanes – offer one more perk.
“You can actually hear the creek now,” Lightfoot said flashing a grin. “(That’s) another nice thing about this work that the contractors did not advertise.”
A needed upgrade
While Lightfoot said the restoration of Big Horse Creek had long been talked about, the project only officially got underway last fall, according to Josselyn Lucas, an environmental technician at Foggy Mountain Nursery who serves as creek restoration manager for Greater Lansing Area Development.
The powerful current of Big Horse Creek had long taken its toll along the creek’s banks, steadily claiming portions, but Lucas said town officials first developed a plan to combat the problem in October after Lansing officially kicked off the construction phase of its Creeper Trail Park expansion.
The Lansing park expansion is a $1.2 million project, funded by state grants and local donors, including Ashe County, according to Lightfoot.
“We realized there was big erosion on Big Horse,” Lucas said. “It was worried that the newly acquired land was eroding super fast but it was also dangerous. You could literally see the bank was cut out in places where people were walking, which had to be addressed.”
And a detailed survey of the stream found little habitat for fish and giant Hellbender salamanders – you might know them as “water dogs” or “snot otters.”
“Because much of the stream bed was really flat, there was no structure and really no habitat for fish and Hellbenders,” Lucas said. “Plus there was just a lot of sediment in the water itself due to the erosion.”
Foggy Mountain Nursery received the go ahead from the Lansing Board of Aldermen to kick start the project in December, and secured some $50,000 in grant funding from the Fish America Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to complete the project’s first phase. GLAD recently donated some $10,000 to the project, as well, Lucas said.
That work, which started in April, consists of a series of cross vanes, rock vanes and root wads which are designed to essentially channel water away from the creek’s edges and offer habitat for aquatic life.
Lightfoot called the restoration project separate but parallel to the town’s other ongoing efforts, including its park expansion, and the recently granted state Scenic Byway Designation.
“You really have to stand next to the rock vanes to appreciate how they work to improve erosion,” Lightfoot said. “They are u-shaped, with deep pools on either side. As water comes over the rocks, current is directed toward the center of the stream. There is effectively no current cutting along the banks themselves – in fact, you can watch it eddying slowly upstream.”
Lucas said the project’s first phase has also included re-sloping portions of the creek’s bank and replanting some 1200 feet of plants as a way to hold that topsoil in place for the long-term.
“The first phase of this project has been a stunning transformation,” Lightfoot said. “The few hundred feet of creek front, which was previously inaccessible, with vertical or undercut banks, is now nicely sloped. We’ve seen many more anglers on the creek than usual in the past few weeks, even with the work incomplete.”
That’s work that Lightfoot said is essential to protecting the investment the town has made – along with donors both large and small – in its burgeoning Creeper Trail Park. Putting a stop on erosion means the town won’t have to worry about Big Horse continually washing away park land, but the restoration project holds another benefit.
“The sloped banks also mean the creek can hold a good deal more water before flooding,” Lightfoot said. “We’re now thinking about what a reconfigured creek bank all the way through town might do toward mitigating flood risk for low-lying properties.”
For now, Lightfoot and Lucas said the project team will approach the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, likely in coming weeks, and attempt to secure additional funding to speed the second phase along.
Lucas said ideally, with additional funding, the project could be completed this summer or fall. That’ll consist of additional cross and rock vanes placed further upstream of the current work and more stream bank work, she said.
“But funding is going to kind of dictate that timetable,” Lucas said. “We’ll use what funds we have left and if we can’t line anything else in the near term, we’ll basically have to wait on approval from the Clean Water Trust Fund that we’ve applied for. But this is going to be a big thing when it’s all finished.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.