Raleigh Nature

October 4, 2012

Milburnie Dam Removal Moves Forward – Raleigh Nature Approves

The Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River, just upstream of Business 64, is historic, interesting, even fun – but also unhelpful environmentally and surprisingly dangerous.  Having followed the long-planned and much discussed project as an environmental ed. teacher, explored the fascinating history of the structure and its predecessors, and recalled the family trips to the place, I am now ready to see it removed.

The dam was originally built of timbers in 1855 and served a papermaking mill.  in 1900 the current rock structure was built and was used for a gristmill and later for electricity generation.  Dam removal will serve several good environmental purposes: restore natural (shallow, high-oxygen) water flow above dam, promote shallow water species, including threatened and endangered ones, to utilize that stretch, and restore 15 miles of riverine habitat to migrating fish such as striped bass and American shad.  These are excellent outcomes and in and of themselves probably outweigh the loss of black water boating and the probable draining of about 11 acres of wetland currently associated with the dammed water levels, which acres will be offset by Restoration Systems.

Neuse River above Milburnie Dam – a bucolic but unnatural linear lake

But the real clincher is the removal of an inviting, but dangerous and deadly “swimming” area below the dam.  The leading picture (click to enlarge) shows this pool.  It looks quiet, it is shallow at the shore – but if you approach the side of the pool nearest the main outflow of the dam, a powerful undercurrent puts you at real risk of drowning – at least 11 reported in media through the years and probably more.  The YouTube video posted by Restoration Systems explains it all.

I look forward to canoeing this area without needing to portage the dam and I also look forward to watching the restoration efforts above the dam, both by the company and by Nature itself.  The mitigation credits might seem to make the project purely commercial, but another way to look at it is using the laws to finance this expensive project.  Careful work will be needed to avoid dumping pent-up sediment downstream, and above-dam residents will doubtless miss their linear lake but overall the project is  well worthwhile.  If you agree, you can sign their petition here.

Links

Google map of the area

Neuse Riverkeeper analysis of pros/cons

1997 pro-dam article

Facebook pro-dam page

2010 N&O article on dam removal proposal

N&O article about shad migration and the dam

2011 N&O article on revised proposal

2012 North Raleigh News pro-removal article

Charlotte Observer article on dam drownings

YouTube – dog retrieving right out to danger spot

artistic photo of dam with historical caption

Duke University article about removal benefits

Restoration Systems Milburnie Dam page

new video from RS explaining project

August 31, 2012

Buckeye’s Intermittent Closings Remind Us of Its Value

Buckeye Trail, which tracks Crabtree Creek through the largest natural area inside the beltline, runs 3 miles from due east of Raleigh at Milburnie and New Bern to Raleigh Boulevard in Northeast Raleigh. There it meets Raleigh Swamp, the neighborly name for the large shallow body of open water bisected by Raleigh Boulevard just north of Crabtree Boulevard.

But this section will be slightly iffy for the next 12 months as crews work on renovating the sewer lines that also track the creek, usually right next to the greenway. I was startled to see the sign, then realized the closings were going to be based on immediate project need, and that people were utilizing the trail as usual that very morning.  I thoughtfully and slowly biked the entire length, stopping to check on some late summer blooms and the condition of the Rocky Overhang, my sentimental favorite spot from childhood jaunts to Crabtree from Gatewood, my east Raleigh neighborhood.  Raleigh Nature has looked several times at this oldest leg of the Raleigh greenway, but a brief catalog of its wonders seems in order.

First, the old landfill meadow at the Milburnie entrance is apparently not going to get mowed anymore – there are trees of several years age filling up the back third.  The rest is filled with microstegium, stilt grass or bamboo grass: by any name, as nefarious an invasive species as kudzu ever was.  Perhaps the landfill monitoring period is over, perhaps they will bushwack these trees eventually.  Minus the stiltgrass, it was a rich meadow. Two pairs of comparison pictures below (click to enlarge).

                                    

Just past this meadow is a large stand of young beeches standing in a floodplain.  As you leave them and approach Crabtree, the sewer line cuts under the greenway on its way to Milburnie Road.  This is where the work is starting.  Necessary work, plus they are protecting the terrain by mulching with what they grind – at least for now. I actually like the new openings and hiking possibilities created by these cuts. Until the poison ivy gets established.

Sewer work at eastern end of Buckeye Trail

I can understand the need for the work.  Above is a section of sewer line inundated by winter floods, seen from the elevated greenway by the pump station at the dead end of Crabtree Boulevard.  This flooding is natural and used to happen with more regularity before the construction of flood controls upstream.

My first nature stop on the bike found me stumped.  I knew I had encountered the triangular, papery fruits and their name, but couldn’t put the two together.  A field guide finally revealed it as American Bladdernut.  Right beside it, pictured below, was a plant I did remember – nettle, whose thin hairy needles inject a stinging but mild toxin that can serve as relief from arthritis, a fact I learned from long-time NC Wildlife photographer Ted Dossett, who used to walk Buckeye almost daily.

Further upstream, the creek takes a big turn, away from Yonkers and toward Milburnie, creating The Point, a triangular beach looking across at the eastern edge of the Marsh Creek marsh.  This broad wetland stretches for about a mile below Yonkers Road and the Beltline. This is a great spot to see the larger birds.  Buckeye is “the birdiest greenway trail” according to the Wake birders’ guide.   As I headed upstream toward Rollingwood, I stopped at a very special place where a big beech uses a rock formation to hang right over the water.  Its roots create undercaves that we used for caching supplies back in grade school – toilet paper, BBs, and matches.  If we left anything long, it would wash away in high water.  The spot beside the beech is pictured below in very low water.

Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

I continued my ride, briefly surveying the Rocky Overhang, still draped by a large fallen Sycamore that came down across the creek after Floyd in 1999.  Fallen trees are a big part of changes in the creek bed, and the sycamores are notorious for taking up doomed positions on the creek bank.  Sometimes they lean precariously for years, and I will never forget the Buckeye walk when a really large, vine encrusted hickory decided to slowly but powerfully lay itself down into the creek as I walked past.  It was an amazing sound – non-violent but death-dealing forces of gravity and release.

Glimpse of the rocky overhang on Buckeye

Halfway up the trail is the park at the bottom of Rollingwood, where the greenway leaves the creekside and edges the neighborhood. The creek formerly split, creating an “island” which edged the greenway, but that streambed is dry now.  Shrubs and young trees cover the large sandy beach that existed at the head of this island in my childhood.  Unforgettable memories of camping on that beach (even then the water flow was seasonable), drawing a large square in the sand, and boxing with gloves!  It was my first and only experience with that.  The stalwart group of boys with whom I had ingratiated myself screamed and exhorted like we were Lords of the Flies.  We walked the creekside ( no greenway on those days) all the way up to Downtown (Capital) Boulevard to go get milkshakes late that night.  Fun times.

Now the creek goes straight past the former island, and the sand piles up just short of the former split.  Above is Sandy Beach, a favorite spot of my own children (though I never allowed them to camp there).  From here up to Raleigh Boulevard is a straight stretch that is close but not connected to my old gatewood neighborhood at the ends of King Charles and Marlborough.  Those streets took major damage from our April tornado disaster, and the damage shows from and includes the greenway.

                     

This stretch is now VERY sunny and the flowers will make use of that.  A selection is below.  Be sure to visit Buckeye soon!

Jerusalem Artichoke, which has an edible root

December 30, 2010

Best Views, Best Intentions, 2010

Glory in the Morning. all pictures by John Dancy-Jones
 All pictures click to enlarge

It has been a slow year at Raleigh Nature, squeezed by my Meniere’s Syndrome, classroom teaching, other online interests, and gardening.  Here are some nice images from 2010, some with notes on the separate posts I would  liked to have written with them.  Thanks for checking in and we’ll keep plugging.  Have a great one!

snowy trees on White Oak Road, December 2010

 The snowy holidays were great fun and a white Christmas seemed like an enticing treat from the Climate Change Coming. We are still working on raising food year round at the Person Street urban homestead and the chickens have been a spectacular success and my best excuse for not being out in Raleigh nature.

Esperanza, our combless Aracauna, with her friends, out for a stroll

Fall pond at Oak View Park

I am truly grateful for Get To Know a Park, since I would rather concentrate on out of the way places, but there are still plenty of park rows to hoe.  Besides Oak View, there is a small new one on Honeycutt Road, and little gems like Hymettus Woods at Wade and Dixie.  One of my biggest regrets of 2010 is not getting over to the new section of greenway emerging by the beltline on House Creek, where I have been specifically invited by a reader (lo siento :( ) 

Fall colors at Oak View

boulders in Cemetery Branch at Brookside Drive

Cemetery Branch

 
Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

There is always a lot of nature lore to explore, and 2010 was no exception.

woad blue mold after heavy rains

Raleigh Swamp mallard hen

sunlit slider on Middle Crabtree

my TFA science classroom's pet box turtle

 

Oakwood hawk with a diappointingly invisible captured squirrel

biggest gall yet!

snapper in the Wilmington creek beside Dorian's apartment

There is a lot I would like to cover from my travels outside Raleigh as well. The Maine post went well, but my mountain traveling has been heavy, and there is always just sooo much to tell.

Boulders on 64 in western NC

rock sculpture at UNC-A's Botanical Garden

ballon from rest stop on 40

Bass Harbor, Maine

There are so many things happening with parks and green amenities in Raleigh.  I had hoped to write about the beginnings of the Neuse River trail, which starts at Fall Dam and eventually hits Anderson Point, the river’s intersection with Crabtree.  This wonderful, under-used park has been the source of many a stimulating walk and deserves multiple posts.  Halfway down that trail (where it joins the existing one) is Raleigh Beach and the Milburnie Dam, which is up for possible removal.  Now THIS topic I would have preferred to address at Raleigh Public Record, and I may yet (the project is on a back-burner currently).

Milburnie Dam

raccon midden at Milburnie Dam (hat for scale)

Happy New Year and here’s hoping again for an invasive species page, a record trees map and more straight street pieces in 2011 – and if we’re lucky, Marsh Creek Part II !           Love,  John

August 9, 2010

Marsh Creek Park – no relation to the creek!

My Google search hits revealed someone looking for Marsh Creek Park, and having featured the creek, I thought we should visit the recently expanded park on New Hope  Road.  The name of the park derives from Marsh Creek Road, which begins just across New Hope and goes straight down to Marsh Creek.  But New Hope Road is a ridge between the Crabtree and Neuse watersheds, and the waterways in the park itself- mostly out of sight without hiking – head north through a large woodlot visible from Southall Road toward the Neuse, just a mile distant.

All pictures click to enlarge

The hot new feature in the park is the skate park, which was featured in a several media articles and is quite popular.  The large recreational center is fairly nondescript, but was constructed with green principles, as described in detail (along with other park amenities) at Get To Know a Park.  Beside the center is a large Piedmont prairie, and the extensive parking areas are adjoined by interesting ecotone areas, though the stilt grass is spreading fast.  The terrain is typical of Piedmont farmland after 50-60 years – upland pines and chestnut oaks with a slope down to loblollies, shrubs, and water.

 

My favorite find at Marsh Creek Park was the rain garden just below the skate park, with a wonderful stand of Joe-Pye-weed, as seen below.  I’ve only seen this handsome plant in the mountains, but it is listed in the Piedmont.  Somebody did a great job with this rain garden.

 To make the park’s name issue a little stranger, there is a really nice marshy area below the lower field, which leads to a very pretty old farm pond. It appears to have a fishing shack on the edge.  The expansion doubled the usable space of the park, but most of the acreage is still heavily wooded and ripe for exploring.  Overall, a versatile park with something for everyone.

photo album of Marsh Creek Park

Google map of Marsh Creek Park

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This section of Raleigh – the ridge of New Hope with the valley of the Neuse to the northeast and Marsh Creek’s drainage to the southwest – is of geologic interest because it is one of the transitions between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.  If you take Buffalo Road off New Hope, for example, you immediately start seeing sandy soils.  Just down the road from Marsh Creek Park, Skycrest Drive heads down to good old Raleigh Swamp.  Before it gets there, at the intersection with Trawick, you can find this meadow of wildflowers.  It is being sorely threatened by kudzu vines.  We will keep a closer eye on invasive species in our future nature travels.

The kudzu is right behind the dandelions.

An impressive array of wildflowers fronts the dandelions by a slope.

These blackberry flowers are beside Skycrest. This was in May, but this summer I picked almost ten quarts of these things!  They are everywhere.

Kudzu making its way toward the wildflowers.

Kudzu go’ne eat us all!!

April 12, 2010

Pigeon House Re-Hab Project Helps Edna Metz Wells Park

A wonderful piece of graffiti has garnered some media attention for the stream restoration project along Smallwood Drive just below Cameron Village.  Cameron Village was the first shopping center in the Southeast, and when Willie York built it he diverted, ditched and straightened the headswaters of Pigeon House Branch, which gather between Cameron Village and the Raleigh Apartments.  The creek takes a straight shot right under Clarke Avenue into Edna Metz Wells Park, and after heavy rains the water, which gathers from a large section of the Oberlin Road ridge of Civil War fame, would roar through the tiny park, eroding and scouring and backwashing debris into the tributary water piped down from the glade along Forest Street above the park.  The City of Raleigh is working on a general rehabilitation plan for Pigeon House Branch, and the Smallwood project, which is pretty much finished, is part of that.  Apparently they are going to remove some invasive species before doing final plantings, both on Smallwood and in Edna Metz, in the fall.

From the main approach, the park looks beseiged..  But as you will see below, in the interior, all is well.  This spot is a real haven in Central Raleigh, and was a mainstay for my young children and me in the nineties.

 The Smallwood St. project involved using large boulders and some nice terraces to slow down and complicate the path of the water.

 

The media interest, started by a nice post from Goodnight, Raleigh, centers on a graffiti portrait of Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol’s muse, painted on the culvert where Pigeon House enters Edna Metz.  My picture of the scene is below.

Josh Shaffer called me and asked about the construction and Ena Metz, but never specifically mentioned the graffiti.  I’m pretty sure they won’t scrape it off as part of the re-hab project, but I can’t really say for sure.  Hope not.  It is indeed a nice harmless piece of art.  The figure says “De,” which is the word for power in Taoist philosophy.  I appreciate Josh’s feature of it and the park, as well as his kind words for my work.  And thanks as always to John Morris and his compadres over at another of Raleigh’s “splendid blogs!”

Goodnight ,Raleigh post on Edna Metz Wells Park

photo album of Edna Metz and Smallwood project

February 13, 2010

Snowy Tree Blocks Buckeye Greenway

Downed Tree on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh Blocks Snowy Greenway

High winds on top of rains toppled quite a few trees in the area, including this pair of medium specimens lying across the Buckeye Trail greenway at the bottom of Suicide Hill, as it was labeled by the cross country runners who used the greenway before its recent upgrade.  Lowered grade, I should say, since the cruelest, steepest stretch was lengthened and terraced to bring this oldest section of greenway into national codes.  Suicide Hill climbs a rugged quartz and sandstone outcrop that forms the Rocky Overhang, one of the seminal pillars of this blog, as it represents my favorite Crabtree hangout.

Raleigh Nature’s  “scoop” on this downed tree is wonderfully fitting as I get back to basics after a bit of hiatus. Enamored of the Ken Burns series, engulfed by teaching responsibilities, and constantly lured by my current intellectual fling, Ray Johnson/Black Mountain/mail art, I have wintered in the blog a bit, but could not resist the lovely, harmless 3 inch fluff that ended on a Saturday morning.  So I took off for my favorite sight-seeing greenway, Buckeye Trail from Milburnie Road. At the edge of Rollingwood, Crabtree has carved out a tall bluff (at least for this part of Raleigh) and under this 40 foot hump the creek has gouged a fishing hole complete with overhanging boulder shelves from which to cast.  Drowning worms  and hauling up the occasional catfish or bream at the Rocky Overhang is a family tradition for me as child and parent.  Heck, I took dates there, I loved the place so much. I was slightly horrified the day soon after Hurricane Floyd came through to see that a very large sycamore tree across the creek had fallen directly onto the Rocky Overhang, and for several years it was too tangled to get down there.  The kids and I mourned but also learned some valuable lessons about how Crabtree changes over time.  Now that tree has finally eased its way mostly into the fishing hole (after forming a hideous litter trap for more than a year on the way in) and the boulders have cleared somewhat.  In the spring, we’ll take a look, but for now here are more snowy scenes from Buckeye Trail, a gall tale, and a link to the photo album from my snow walk.

 

The baby beeches we have admired before looked nice mixed into the snowy pines.  Below is the scene at the beginning of Buckeye, where Longview Branch parallels Milburnie as it slides into Crabtree.

 

Below is a  ditched brook that brings water from the slopes of Rollingwood under the greenway and into Longview Branch just before it reaches the creek.

Just off  Milburnie is the old landfill that now forms a rich meadow, a favorite browsing place of the numerous deer living in Crabtree’s floodplains in East Raleigh. 

Below are some deer and coon tracks in the February snow.

The stump of a large oak I miss very much looked just as sad in the beautiful snow.  This tree had the largest gall I ever saw – a triple-grapefruit sized lump that housed the larvae of box elder beetles.  Greenway maintenence brought it down – I doubt the gall was a factor, but I’ve wondered.

the oak gall

Photo Album of my snow walk

 

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