Raleigh Nature

December 8, 2009

Lassiter Mill Shows Crabtree at Strength

 

 The previous post talked about Crabtree Creek’s tendency to flood – last week again brought heavy rains over the Crabtree watershed that brought the creek up to the edge of  its large channels.  This also sends an impressive load of water over Lassiter Mill Dam, as seen above.  I shot a video clip of the rushing water from below the tailrace, as linked below.

video- Lassiter Mill dam at high water

What happens at Lassiter Mill vividily and intensely demonstrates what happens lots of places more gradually – the deposition of new soil by spreading flood waters.  This is an essential part of the natural systems of the Piedmont, and our flood control measures prevent the process from periodically enriching the soil with a layer of mud and silt – though the process continues to work just fine in the “waste” lowlands that remain in Raleigh.  An astounding number of these lowlands have become major thoroughfares – roads built relatively later in Raleigh’s long history, on land left undeveloped due to the floodplain.  The Beltline follows the low contours of Walnut Creek, House Creek, Crabtree Creek, Big Branch, Marsh Creek and then Walnut Creek quite precisely as it curves from Cary’s Buck Jones to Glenwood, over the crest of North Hills, and around southeast to Poole Rd and then Lake Wheeler Road.  The water is piped and rushed away from underneath these elevated roadways, carrying its minerals with it.

The suburbs and businesses near these roads certainly don’t need the sediments!  But the stuff has to go somewhere, and these days there is a lot of stuff.  When streams are buffered by a healthy band of water-loving trees and shrubs, erosion material is reduced greatly. In central Raleigh, Crabtree is clogged with lots of dislodged soil, construction materials and unnaturally exposed red clay.   But the deposition process is a vital one, and it gets exaggerated at Lassiter Mill, where the water brings its load of suspended minerals hurtling over the dam and then slows and spreads its course below.  As it slows, it drops much of its sediment load.  The area below Lassiter Mill changes yearly as the creek alternately erodes and builds up materials.  Check out the new load of sand deposited by the recent high waters.

There are several caveats and complications to consider.  This is a large load of sand!  Eight or nine inches at a dose, and not the silt and mud that the plants would prefer. But nature adapts, and the Lassiter “beach” is fun to browse, with a wide variety of weeds incubated from the loads of  soil and debris.  The silt and sand that currently washes down Crabtree is terribly unhealthy for the filtering mussels and other delicate aquatic life.  The red clay that paints Crabtree brown is such a strong pigment that Crabtree often changes the color of the Neuse where it conjoins.

Crabtree builds itself “shoulders”  as it repeatedly overflows, dropping the heaviest particles first as the water disperse into the floodplain.  This is why Crabtree presents such a tall ditched appearance as above at Hodge Road.  The plants arrange themselves in an orderly sequence beside or on top of these embankments according to their tolerance for flooding.

The next time Crabtree rises over it’s banks, put on your rubber boots and check out the glistening mica-rich silt that covers the greenways before the city sends its scrapers to clear it off to the side, where it enriches the plants as well as any landscaper’s mulch.  You are walking in the stuff that makes our floodplain soils, a rich muck delivered by the yearly floods.

Nature.org floodplain info

BBC floodplain story

 

August 9, 2009

David Spain, steward of moss

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

David Spain tends the Urquhart moss garden

I recently had an opportunity to document the Southern Living photo shoot of one of Raleigh’s most interesting residential landscapes.  The Southern Living article about the moss garden at the Urquhart residence on Marlowe Drive will come out in about a year – we’ll return to that incredible piece of landscaping, and promote the article, closer to the publication date.  In the meantime, I wanted to introduce Raleigh Nature readers to David Spain, Richard Urquhart’s son-in-law, who has cared for the property since Urquhart’s passing in 2008.  David follows Raleigh Nature and has been very encouraging of my efforts to portray the Lassiter Mill section of Crabtree Creek, which adjoins the Urquhart property.  This post shares some of his photography and offers a sneak peek at the moss garden, which senior writer Steve Bender at Southern Living describes as the finest he’s ever seen.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

The landscape of the Urquhart residence is unique in several respects, and David Spain is keenly aware of the ecological and geological wonders of the place.  The property slopes down steeply to the deep stretch of Crabtree Creek just northwest of the dam.  There is a rich stand of mountain laurel on the slope, and above the moss garden and water park of large pools, waterfalls, and huge rocks.  The rocks were unearthed by creek erosion out of the slope, and the Urquhart family has pried them out, hauled them up the hill, and used them to create a magnificent setting for the plants and water.

Urquhart backyard area with landscape boulder

David's newest addition with landscape boulder

David puts into Crabtree in his canoe about as often as I THINK about doing it – which is pretty often- and gets some great pictures, which he has shared and consented to have on the site.  Enjoy some great sights of Raleigh Nature courtesy of David Spain, whose hard work and dedication is maintaining one of the most interesting and valuable residential natural areas in central Raleigh.

 

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

duck by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

creekside poplar by D.S._1_1

photograph by David Spain

What a brave poplar tree!  David can walk the creekside and offer endless lore and history about the area.  His contributions and friendship have been a big reward for my work on Raleigh Nature.  Below is his picture of the Urquhart front yard.  I’ll share my own photography of the site when it’s time to celebrate the Southern Living shoot, which was arranged by local super-gardener Helen Yoest, whose acquaintance I made at the shoot.  Her Metro feature on the Urquhart garden is a great introduction to the site, and it will be fun to see how Southern Living shows off the garden and David’s meticulous work with the moss.

photograph by David Spain

photograph by David Spain

 

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A related fun tidbit:  I received a while back the photo below, which depicts what the senders states are gears from Lassiter Mill.  He asked for advice about who might be interested or what might be done with them.  I thought I would post the picture and give my contacts at the Raleigh History Museum and Yates Mill Park a heads-up.  Any ideas?

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

mill equipment- photo by Jimmy Gordon

 

February 22, 2009

News, Notes, and Promises

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

Walnut Creek greenway at Wetland Center

 Walnut Creek Wetland Park is approximately 59 acres in size and is located between Garner Road and South State Street and south of Peterson Street in Southeast Raleigh. This site contains extensive wetlands that are located near the downtown urban center and offer an opportunity for the public to easily explore and learn about the value and significance of wetlands for water quality and wildlife habitat.     Raleigh City website

      Construction has begun on  the  Walnut Creek Wetland Center, as reported in NandO on February 11.   The center is the culmination of efforts led by Norman Camp to rehabilitate and protect the wetlands of Raleigh’s Southeast.   This topo map shows the area. The new building, shown below, was designed by Frank Harmon, and will stand six feet above the ground and have a minimal ecological footprint.  An earlier post describes some amenities of this section of greenway.

                         walnut-center-side_1_1                         walnut-wetlands-center-front_1_1

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henbit-on-hodge-rd_1_1

    The groundhog definitely saw his shadow, but early signs of spring abound in Raleigh.  Above is henbit between Hodge Road and Crabtree.  Below are red maples blossoms in Oakwood.  There is some cold air coming, so there will be some casualties – though our well-mulched garden parsley and “spinach under glass” on the deck are doing great!

winter-maple-buds_1_1

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     One of the exciting things about Raleigh Nature is the wonderful reader input, and I need to follow up and post about more of it.  There’s always a tension between getting around to it and doing it justice.  Here are a few smoldering issues on my draft posts:

First and most behind: responding to the multiple inputs about Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history.  From David’s great pics of the upper water, to the amazing Lassiter mill drive wheel images sent by Jimmy, and the history and memories in the comments, we need to return to this subject soon!  I recently got a fascinating inquiry from Carol about the infilled Lake Boone, and the natural springs that fed it, and I want badly to follow that up.  I very much appreciated the mistletoe tips from Meredith, and dream of my “pecans and mistletoe” map of Raleigh!  Scott, a well-known author, my old friend Joe, and Tommy, a songwriter from my past, all greatly helped my still-unfinished exploration of the Pigeon House Branch system and the expensive new Fletcher Water Park that feeds into it.  We’ve been blessed with an explanation of Raleigh Swamp’s waters by Mark, who engineered it, and we’ve been sobered by the plea for resolution from Deborah concerning Ward Transformer’s lifetime of ecological crimes against our area.    I look forward to sharing Patti’s wonderful hawk story, and keeping Michiel in the Netherlands all caught up on Raleigh’s natural scene.  Mentioning these highlights, many thanks to all who have written or commented.  It really helps the work!

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Oakwood maple

Oakwood maple

     Chris Crew and Matthew Brown just wrote a wonderful article about Oakwood wildlife for our neighborhood newsletter.They are neighbors at the bottom of the slope at whose crest I reside. Between my house and theirs almost every inch is controlled by humans, and the water flowing downhill is piped or culverted.  Below their house, toward Brookside and Glascock, the land opens up just a bit and has some natural edges. As a matter of fact, Chris is uncovering  the section of Grassy Branch in his backyard, and that’s another topic on my to-do list.  Just across the road, though, is Oakwood Cemetery, a significant oasis for many living things.  According to their article, our neighborhood boasts a huge variety of species. Among many bird species they describe, the cedar waxwing invasion for berries and the long-standing nest of red-tail hawks stood out.  Foxes, possums, and a substantial population of raccoons are described.  There are excellent nature lore tips regarding the colors of 5-lined skinks and owl sounds.  I wish the newsletter were online, but if you have a friend that’s a resident, check it out.  Way to go, Matthew and Chris!

PS:  Hope ya’ll like the revised sidebar.

PPS: Matthew very kindly posted the article referred to above HERE.

June 29, 2008

Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history

This post was originally published April 28, 2008.

I remember the day in my high school years when they closed Lassiter Mill bridge. It was old time rickety but somehow made it to modern Raleigh – the 1970s- before being closed and then destroyed. I had conscientiously driven my 68 VW carefully over the twin tracks several times, fully aware I was testing out a soon-to-be piece of history. The iron on the right is part of the original bridge structure – iron and wood, and a thing of beauty it was. That bridge gave off an air of classic American architecture of a century past, and was fun to drive across as well, following old Lassiter Mill Road off of the new one.

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The site was originally called the “Great Falls of Crabtree” and was used by succesive mills starting about 1780, a decade before Raleigh’s creation. Cornelius Lassiter purchased it in 1908 and built two 40-horse turbine wheels to mill grain and lumber. It burned in 1959, but the family continued to make use of the property until current times.

Well-heeled homes now surround the entire site, but the area south of dam and lower pool, and downstream to (the new) Lassiter Mill Road, constitutes a small city park. There are picnic tables, a canoe put-in, and truly fine fishing – I have watched fly fisherman work below and above the dam many times. This is the spot where the city animal control folks bring misplaced snapping turtles for release – I’ve seen them wrestle some real monsters out of their truck. The fishing is also perfect for young ones, as my own can attest. Dorian’s first small-mouth bass came from just below the tailrace, and he had the enormous satisfaction, not only of helping to clean, cook, and eat it, but make his sister sick to her stomach as well. Below is his lucky fishing hole.

You can also put a boat in very easily just off the cul-de-sac, and paddle your way as far upstream toward Crabtree Valley as the downed trees and water levels will let you. The deep water above the dam is like a linear lake right through the backyards of million dollar homes. As the water get shallower, you start to see some really nice slate deposits on the banks and realize you have climbed out of East Raleigh’s muddy ditch sections of Crabtree and gotten into some cool Raleigh Belt geology. This reminds us that Lassiter Mill literally and precisely marks the Fall Line in central Raleigh. I’ll run pictures of that trip this summer.

This is the deep water above the dam. Dams like Lassiter Mill present a problem for migrating fish and the mussels dependent on them for reproduction (a long story we’ll get into sometime). Someday we may make an ecological choice to remove the dam. I will miss the easy canoe trip, but I understand the value of unencumbered stretches of water. Amazing to think of all the gristmills (and dams) that used to dot the Raleigh area – road names alone give you some idea – Lassiter, Edwards, Yates, Ligon, etc. A future gem of a post will explore the remains of the small mill still visible in Fallon Park. We used to live closer to nature – but we also exploited nature in ways we have given up.

January 18, 2008

Yates Mill Ponderings

Filed under: Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore, Raleigh History, Raleigh mills, Southwest Raleigh — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:03 am

The park at Yates Mill Pond is in the purview of this blog – just over a mile from the beltline – but partakes of rural Raleigh and Raleigh history in a profound way that few other sites in that purview do.  The watershed, the mill history, the flood history, the facility and its wonderful homage to all of the previous: here is a nature experience with, truly, something for everyone.  The new center has marvelous open beam vaulted ceilings  and huge window walls that look out on the pond – you feel like you’re in a Biltmore hunting lodge. There is a large set of multi-media displays that give a rich sense of the mill’s multi-family, multi-disaster history.  Back outside, the fishing deck is usually in use, but there are lots of private corners of the pond to explore.

 Walk past the fishing deck and you have a choice of directions to begin a large loop: to the right you can explore a the wet meadow valley around a ridge from the main pond.This trail winds around by NCSU research farmland and then up the ridge to the Penny Road side of the facility.  Currently hurricane damage has closed the connecting segment, so that you are diverted back across the fishing deck to return to the center.

update 6-09 – all 3 trails are open

If you go left after the fishing deck, you are following a trail right beside the pond with twenty specimens of trees, labeled with numbers to go with a brochure available in the center.  There is lots of wildlife, such as the skink seen below. A great place we will return to soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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