The Raleigh Naturalist

May 18, 2009

Grassy Branch Sees Daylight

Pigeon House culvert_1_1

Many waterways in Raleigh travel unseen, as does Pigeon House Branch above.  Recent years have seen efforts to rehabilitate – uncover and often “un-straighten” – creeks.  The process is called daylighting.  It helps with flood control and improves the ecosystem.  It happened in Northeast Raleigh last year, and it’s set to happen for Rocky Branch on the NCSU campus(pdf).  So Raleigh has recognized the process as valuable, but it is still an unusual occurrence.  For one Oakwood resident, stymied in efforts to have the city uncover his backyard branch, the benefits were worth the huge personal effort of unearthing the waterway himself by hand.

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Chris Crew is a longtime Oakwood resident who co-authored the wonderful Oakwood nature essay I recently featured.  He lives on Elm Street, almost at the bottom of Oakwood’s slope.  Grassy Branch is a small but steady flow that passes under Elm Street and edges his backyard. Until a couple of years ago, it passed unseen in a large buried pipe.

Chris's side yard_1_1

Chris learned of the city daylighting program and tried to get Grassy Branch uncovered.  During heavy rains, the water backed up and even spouted out vertically from broken places in the pipes.  The city couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work because other contiguous neighbors would not enlist their properties.  Tired of the geysers and wanting a healthier backyard creek, Chris decided to do the job himself.  So he and his family hand-dug and wenched out two sections of the 42 inch pipes.

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

I don’t have pictures of “the dig” – I just heard about Chris’ project recently.  But there is one more section he can remove before Grassy Branch crosses his property line.  I’m hoping he’ll invite me to help, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe


Both Pigeon House and Rocky Branch involve daylighting projects that have or will be addressed in other posts.  An interesting neighborhood daylighting project finished up a couple of years ago near my school, the Fletcher Academy.  The picture below shows the view my students and I have on nature walks at the bottom of Cedar Hills Rotary Park. Three years ago we were looking at the creek disappear into a large pipe.

former pipe entrance for Big Branch_1_1

Today, the adjoining houses have less to fear from flooding, and the biological and geologic interactions missing from pipe existence have been restored to the creek.  One slightly bizarre feature of the project was the city’s purchase and destruction of a house on Mapleridge which sat practically on top of the creek.

site of former house at Big Branch

site of former house at Big Branch

  Big Branch daylighting project_1_1   Big Branch above Mapleridge_1_1   Big Branch re-exposed below Mapleridge_1_1




  1. John,

    you are welcomed to come over any time and work on the Grassy Branch Restoration Project. So far my son and I have removed four out of six 12′ sections of the 42″ culvert that crosses the property. Right now, I am concentrating on what to do with the daylighted section. The city reviewed the project under a grant source for dealing with severe erosion, and I may have them back over for another look since the bank needs to be stabilized before my driveway slides off. I would also be interested in talking with any of your readers who have landscape design experience–I would love to have a plan to go in with native plants once all is said and done.

    It is interesting that you mentioned the Big Branch project as I have a little to do with that one too. The house on Mapleridge was purchased by the City of Raleigh using funding from the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program which I manage for the State of North Carolina.

    The property was acquired under the auspices of the HMGP because analysis showed that it faced a considerable risk of repetitive flooding leading to environmental degradation, continued disaster response and recovery costs and claims against the National Flood Insurance Program. After the property was acquired at fair market value, programmatic regulations required the city to demolish the structure and hold the underlying land as public open space in perpetuity. Acceptable uses of acquired properties include open space, recreation, or wetlands management. Following Hurricane Fran, the City of Raleigh acquired and demolished 31 structures within the 100-year floodplains of Crabtree Creek, Walnut Creek,Bushy Branch, Perry Creek and Big Branch. In addition, five structures were raised off of their foundations and placed on new taller foundations that placed them out of the reach of flood waters.

    Statewide, over 7,000 flood hazard structures have been acquired in the last 10 years under various state and federal mitigation funding programs with the principle goal of restoring the floodplains to their natural flood storage function and capacity. Folks who are interested in the various programs are welcomed to give me a call at the NC Division of Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation Section (919) 715-8000 x 277, or shoot me an email at

    Comment by Chris — May 18, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  2. Hi! I am enjoying your site. I have a question and I wondered if you could help me. I recently moved to Cedar Hills Condos and there is a small lake here with wonderful wildlife. No one seems to know the name of the lake or much about its history, I am hoping you can shed some light on the subject. Thank you!

    Comment by Dorene — July 28, 2017 @ 6:15 am

    • Thanks for reading, Dorene! Big Branch starts in Cedar Hills Park near the intersection of Spring Forest and Sandy Forks. It winds through that park and then through the neighborhood down to Milbrook, and on the way it fills the Cedar hills condo’s pond. The pond was almost certainly built as an amenity for the development, but at the time city money was being invested in flood control projects (mainly Shelley and Lynn Lakes) and it’s entirely possible this project received support from those funds. Big Branch parallels Quail Hollow south of Milbrook and crosses Six Forks just north of the Kroger shopping center before joining Crabtree behind Southern States auto dealership (visible from Middle Crabtree greenway).

      Comment by raleighnaturalist — July 29, 2017 @ 3:50 am

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