Hitchcock Creek, a tributary of the Pee Dee River, flows through Rockingham, North Carolina. Thanks to a recent dam removal and the creation of a blue trail, the creek is experiencing a renaissance and the local community is reconnecting to this valuable natural asset.

Threats to This River

Until 2009, the Steeles Mill Dam degraded Hitchcock Creek, blocking migrating fish and preventing the community from safely enjoying the river through recreation. In June 2009, removal of Steeles Mill Dam began, marking a renaissance for Hitchcock Creek, and emblematic of a river restoration trend in North Carolina and nationwide.

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 restored more than 15 miles of habitat for species including hickory shad, blueback herring, striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon. The dam removal was the result of efforts by partners including American Rivers, the City of Rockingham and NOAA.

“This is the beginning of a great new chapter for Hitchcock Creek and nearby communities,” said Gerrit Jöbsis, Southeast regional director for American Rivers, at the time of the dam removal. “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.” 

Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail

Following the dam removal, American Rivers worked with the City of Rockingham to create a new 14 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 can stimulate local economies, encourage physical fitness, improve community pride, and make rivers and communities healthier.

“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. 

As small communities around the country struggle to grow their economies, the city of Rockingham has recognized the ability of restoration projects to inject new dollars into the community. 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  recreation  opportunities. Community liabilities can be remade into community assets.

As part of this effort, the City of Rockingham protected 100 acres of bottomland forest along the Blue Trail, purchased two river access areas, and acquired a boat launch.