An Eerie Dam Removed for Cryptic, Camouflaged Creatures

Removing creepy dams help slimy stream creatures.

The Cane River dam pre-removal. | Jeff Rich

At Halloween you might think more about crypts than cryptic, but here are three cryptic creatures that benefited by the removal of an eerie, outdated dam:


Freshwater mussels often look like rocks when peering through the surface of a stream and have unfairly been called “rocks that suck” since they play an important filter-feeding role. The Cane River is home to a federally endangered freshwater mussel called the Appalachian elktoe. The removal of the Cane River dam will allow for an expansion of high quality habitat for these filter-feeding aquatic organisms.

Hellbender | Photo: Brian Gratwicke
Hellbender | Photo: Brian Gratwicke


Often misaligned as snot otters, devil dogs, and mud puppies, hellbenders are a fascinating near-endangered salamander that hides in Southern Appalachian streams. In fact, they are the largest aquatic salamander in the U.S. and can breathe through their skin. The Cane River dam removal included features in the design to create shelter rocks for hellbenders to hide. Male hellbenders will defend their shelter rocks before the breeding season, so females have a place to lay eggs.


A cryptic bunch, anglers keep a low profile while in pursuit of easily spooked wild trout. The Cane River dam created a dangerous hazard for river recreationists on the Cane River, a popular destination trout fishing stream. The removal of the dam will improve habitat for trout and make fishing safer for those chasing their favorite quarry.

Want to know more about the Cane River dam removal project?

The Cane River after the dam was removed. | Jonathan Hartsell
The Cane River after the dam was removed. | Jonathan Hartsell

The Cane River Dam located near Burnsville, North Carolina, was a 45-foot tall, 245-foot long concrete dam built for hydropower in the early 1900s. This dam was completely removed in October 2016 thanks to the enduring leadership of the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation & Development Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

American Rivers is proud to have supported this successful dam removal through technical assistance.

Other partners critical to the success of the project include the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, N.C. Division of Water Resources, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission,  N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, North Carolina State University’s Stream Restoration Program, Appalachian State University, N.C. Department of Transportation, the Yancey County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership, Wildland Engineering, and Baker Grading and Landscaping.

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