The Story

Steeles Mill Dam before removal.
Steeles Mill Dam before removal.

Hitchcock Creek, a small tributary of the Pee Dee River, flows east to west just above the border between North and South Carolina. The Pee Dee itself runs from the northwestern corner of North Carolina, through South Carolina, and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Pee Dee and its tributaries provide important habitat for populations of migratory fish, including American shad, American eel, hickory shad, striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon and the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Originally built in the late 1800s, Steeles Mill Dam was used to power a cotton mill in the City of Rockingham, but was decommissioned by 1999. No longer serving any useful purpose, the dam was degrading habitat and restricting fish from reaching 15 miles of spawning grounds further upstream. At a certain point, conditions at the dam site became stagnant affecting aquatic life; it was time that the dam came out.

The City of Rockingham, American Rivers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others formed a partnership, and in 2009, successfully removed the dam. After one hundred years, fish had access to upstream habitat and aquatic life began to prosper once again.

Dam Removal Benefits

  • Creation of a 14-mile-long Blue Trail (a blue trail is a stretch of river designated for recreation) with primitive campgrounds along the shore, allowing people to safely boat, kayak and canoe the river and camp out along the way
  • Two river access areas and a boat launch purchased along the newly restored river, giving the city the opportunity to build recreational facilities along the water and providing people with easy access to the river
  • Protection of 100 acres of bottomland forest surrounding the creek— rare plants and animals can be found in the forest as well as remains of the historical mill and diverse floodplain and forest ecosystems
  • Restored economic stability of the City of Rockingham through the creation of a strong tourism industry

Steeles Mill Dam Site, before (left) and after (right) removal. | Photos by Gerrit Jobsis (left) and NOAA (right)

The community had a renewed sense of pride surrounding Hitchcock Creek, which became a destination for tourists and travelers. Thanks to the partners involved in this project and a city devoted to connecting people to the water, Hitchcock Creek now flows freely.

[su_note note_color=”#e1e8f6″ radius=”10″]FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Erin Singer McCombs | American Rivers | [/su_note]