Removal of Steeles Mill Dam Begins on Hitchcock Creek
Restoration project means better fishing, boating, recreation for residents and visitorsJune 30th, 2009
Peter Raabe, American Rivers, 919-682-3500, cell: 202-441-6174
Caitlin Jennings, American Rivers, 202-347-7550 X 3100
Raleigh, NC —Hitchcock Creek, a tributary of the Pee Dee River, will soon flow freely thanks to the removal of the 110 year old Steeles Mill Dam. The dam removal marks the beginning of a renaissance for Hitchcock Creek, and is emblematic of a river restoration trend in North Carolina and nationwide. The dam removal is the result of efforts by the City of Rockingham, Pilotview RC&D, Resource Institute RC&D, American Rivers, and NOAA.
Originally built in the late 1800s to generate power for a cotton mill, the 15-foot tall Steeles Mill Dam had fallen into disuse by 1999. The removal of the dam will restore more than 15 miles of habitat for species like hickory shad, blueback herring, striped bass, and Atlantic sturgeon. The river restoration effort is also expected to boost the overall health of the river, resulting in cleaner, free-flowing water.
Restoring Hitchcock Creek will also include the creation of a new 10 mile blue trail from Ledbetter Lake to the Pee Dee River. Blue trails, the water equivalent to hiking trails, are created to facilitate recreation in and along rivers and other water bodies. They have the potential to stimulate local economies, encourage physical fitness, improve community pride, and make rivers and communities healthier.
“This is the beginning of a great new chapter for Hitchcock Creek and nearby communities,” said Gerrit Jöbsis, Southeast regional director for American Rivers. “Healthy rivers are the lifeblood 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.”
“This isn’t just about removing a dam, it’s about revitalizing Hitchcock Creek into an even greater asset for our community. We are excited about the creation of a new blue trail, and the economic, recreation, and quality of life rewards that 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,” said Gene McLaurin, the Mayor of Rockingham.
The river restoration project was made possible with the addition of $40,000 for the removal of the Steeles Mill Dam provided through a cooperative partnership between American Rivers and NOAA. American Rivers helps communities remove unneeded dams by providing educational, technical, and financial assistance. The organization works with the NOAA Community-based Restoration Program to fund stream barrier removals in select regions nationwide that help restore rivers, enhance public safety and community resilience, and have clear and identifiable benefits to diadromous fish populations.
As small communities around the country struggle to gain a foothold in this economy, the city of Rockingham recognizes the ability of restoration projects to inject new dollars into local economies. Projects such as these can lead to greater economic stability over the long term by restoring commercial and recreational fishing; improving tourism; and creating new business and recreational opportunities. Community liabilities can be remade into community assets.
“More than 140 dams in North Carolina are outdated or unsafe and are eligible for removal,” Jöbsis said. “This is an opportunity for other communities around the state to rid themselves of old, failing infrastructure and reap all of the quality of life and economic benefits a healthy river provides.”