The Raleigh Naturalist

February 6, 2009

Pigeon House Branch Part 2


     In our previous post, we began with the hidden headwaters of Pigeon House under Cameron Village, and followed it through the the Park Avenue  neighborhood and down West Johnson Street to Peace Street, with a reach-out to Capital at Wake Forest, where the heron above (remember all pictures should click to enlarge) found a rocky spot of wilderness.  This post backs up to Devereux Meadows and follows Pigeon House Branch down to its intersection with Crabtree Creek. An unhappy course, for the most part. The city is trying to rehabilitate it, one tributary at a time. Below is the map of their plan.


     Pigeon House Branch drains the northwestern quadrant of downtown, gathering water east of the Oberlin Road ridge, bringing it through a series of open stone culverts through the Park Drive neighborhood.  At St. Mary’s Street it enters the Glenwood South business district and is piped under the roads and railroads tracks and down to Devereux Meadows.   The dark blue line is where they want to uncover the creek, and the brown area is where the city wants to create a “Riverwalk”  at Devereux Meadows.  Below we see the creek as it begins its path through this area.

     Pigeon House Branch is under there somewhere!  The creek escapes out a large pipe and continues down between West Street and Capital Boulevard.  About here is where the 42 inch pipe pictured below delivers all the water collected from Fletcher Park and its $700,000 water park!

     Pigeon House crosses back and forth across Capital Boulevard, traveling through wide manmade ditches covered with kudzu.  The water passes over the heron’s rock outcrop and turns northeast.  It dives under Capital yet again and emerges at Watkin’s Grill, a venerable blue-collar breakfast joint at Old Louisburg Road and Atlantic Ave.  Traveling between the north and southbound lanes of Capital, it accepts the water from off the Blount St. ridge (Mordecai to Oakwood), and makes its way through successive parking lots, including Johnny’s Motel, Dunkin’ Donuts, The Foxy Lady and the bowling alley for over a mile, before turning east at Crabtree Boulevard.  Here Pigeon House lends its seepage to a small marsh between it and Crabtree Creek.  It feeds into Crabtree at Raleigh Boulevard, its mouth visible from its bridge over Crabtree as well as the nearby greenway deck.

Pigeon House Branch enters Crabtree Creek

     Pigeon House is decidedly urban and yet makes its way through former waste lowlands turned into thoroughfares, so its riparian buffer is actually less stressed for space than many other creeks in Raleigh.  Thus the heron, thus the opportunity for a high-end greenway at the site where I watched many a minor league baseball game.  Much hope can be found for success with the city’s project to rehabilitate Pigeon House Branch.

pdf. Pigeon House Plan

Pigeon House Part 2 photo album

This is a thorough sequence from Devereux Meadows to Crabtree Creek.

September 8, 2008

Crabtree Creek Floods The Middle Creek Greenway

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Crabtree Creek, Greenways & Parks — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 12:44 am

     After Tropical Storm Hannah came through on Saturday, September 6, 2008, Crabtree Creek flooded the intersection of Hodges Road and Atlantic Avenue and also several sections of the Middle Creek portion of the Raleigh greenway.


above is the greenway underpass below Atlantic Ave.  Below is the same view 9/6/08.

This is the first time the greenway has flooded since October 2007 by my count.

creek levels post on Pecans & Mistletoe

photo album of Crabtree flooding after Hannah


August 13, 2008

Ward Transformers – Crime Never Stops Hurting

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, Gems & Surprises, green initiatives — Tags: , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:09 pm

     A recent N&O story reminds us of the reason for these signs, posted all along the Crabtree system:  our city’s water system is tainted by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a toxic chemical released over many years by the actions of Ward Transformers, a company whose name is etched in the annals of NC corporate crimes, a company STILL OPERATING next to the Superfund site next to RDU airport, where its buried load of poisons is slowly being incinerated through the process pictured below.

Ward Transformer site

Ward Transformer site

Ward Transformers has a long history of environmental crimes in North Carolina.  Long before the discovery that it’s open burning of materials on site to recover copper had applied PCBs to the soil surrounding its plant, Ward Transformers and its contractor, Robert Burns, were found guilty of dumping PCB-laced waste along miles of rural NC highways, using a specially designed dumping apparatus constructed at Ward Transformers.  Burns and “Buck” Ward spent some time in jail, but at some point the EPA or someone in government realized that a bankrupt company couldn’t help pay clean-up costs, so Ward Transformers was left in business.  The state of North Carolina had to scrape up the roadside deposits and figure out what to do with them – leading to a separate whole nightmare with the landfill in Warren County.

That was way back in 1978.  The next year, EPA tests show contamination in the soil around the plant itself.  In 1993, preliminary Superfund action was undertaken and in 2002 it was declared a Superfund site.  Yet much local outcry and promotion took place before clean-up work was begun.  Now, according to the newspaper report, the work is being done, and in a safe manner. Yet concerns remain about the process, as well described in this post at Raleigh Eco News.  I went out to look at the site.  The EPA’s clean-up incinerator really puts out a huge stream of white smoke – apparently almost all water vapor.

     Thank you for listening to my rant.  It just drives me crazy that ole Buck Ward spent a few months in jail and now his company rolls merrily along, though I presume they send a hefty check to the EPA each month.  We will never fully recover from these actions in my lifetime.  And we will never figure out the “best” way to punish such transgressors – justice and reparation are both so tough to achieve.


As a balance to the above, please enjoy a juvenile box turtle living in our garden and a fawn Cara and I saw on a trip last weekend.

June 29, 2008

Hot Spring Critter Sightings!

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 11:12 pm

This post was originally published in May 2008

This owl swooped down and landed on a branch directly above Crabtree Creek as I walked on the high greenway that traverses a steep hill off Capital Boulevard.  This is just east of the sad section that has recently had its woody buffer appropriated by bulldozers.

 It sat there for the 20 minutes or so I watched it from different angles.  I believe it’s a Barn Owl.  This was about half hour before dusk.  The owl was getting ready for work.

The owl is somewhere in the scene below.  Crabtree takes a sharp bend as it approaches Capital Boulevard near the beltline.  It is turned by a large rock outcrop that underlies the hill on which a large former car dealership resides, framed by the south ramp off the beltline.  The slope from the back of the car dealership down to the creek is some really interesting terrain, and the troublesome but dramatic walkway that clings to the hillside is one of my favorite stretches in the whole system. One reason being it’s a great place to spot turtles, as you will see below. (snapper story below that)

Below is the rock that turns Crabtree.  It looks dark and foliated, but it’s drenched in algae, so Iwon’t make a specific guess.



Snapper Lays Eggs

The family of one of my students had a female snapping turtle crawl up into a sandy area near their backyard creek and lay some eggs.  She finished and went on  back to the creek, and now they get to watch for babies.  Good luck to Carson and her family!


Lassiter Mill and Raleigh mill history

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.


The site was originally called the “Great Falls of Crabtree” and was used by successive 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.

The comments below represent well the amazing memories and feelings the Raleigh community has for this spot. those comments are a major feature of the newly published book based on this blog.

The Natural History of Raleigh

Bikes Trails RIP – highlights greenway loss

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Crabtree Creek, Greenways & Parks, North Raleigh, waterways — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 9:08 pm

This post was originally posted on March 6, 2008.            


The destruction of the bike trails described by Joe Miller is not just significant for these bandit bikers: all users of the greenway between Atlantic Avenue and Capital Boulevard should mourn the loss of this old farm site, whose naked hillsides (and future clapboard townhouses) are easily visible from the greenway. Riparian buffer is the term for the ecological value of these wooded areas contiguous with the greenway:  the trees absorb rain as well as pollution, shade and cool the waters of Crabtree.  Of course, the wildlife appreciates wooded areas next to the creek as well.


This is a rich and variegated section of greenway with lots of interesting features in addition to the old farm site.  If you park off Capital Blvd. at its intersection with Yonkers Road, you will have to jump the barrier that tells you this problematic section of greenway deck needs shoring up.  The risk seems minimal, and I’ve done it many times.  From this deck you can see the naked hillsides, and then follow that section of greenway as it heads toward Atlantic Avenue.



A view from the greenway of what Joe Miller describes as the mohawk look. 

 Above is the view from the new development at the south end of Six Forks. 

This lovely path begins at the base of the hillside deck and heads straight toward the southbound ramp off the beltline for Capital Boulevard.  If this stretch survives the development, that will be significant for this greenway section.


From the west end of the problematic deck, you are looking toward Atlantic Avenue.  This stretch parallels Hodges Road and looks across Crabtree at the old site for the State Farmer’s Market.  Below you see a bog visible to the right of this stretch.


Now just across this bog we have an interesting situation. Several fellows have set up a tent just behind the Atlantic Ave marsh area and are creating quite a trash pile nearby.  The trash is visible from the greenway, but won’t be long as things green in. I have observed these camps and also the urban “nesting sites” downtown and under bridges for many years and almost never gotten bad vibes from them.  But that is some nasty trash!  We’ll end the post with the sunset cattails which are literally within sight of the tent and trash.  Be careful out there!


 The marsh below has been short of water since well before the drought.  It appears to me that the greenway construction changed the drainage somehow.  What you’re looking at used to stay under two feet of water most of the year.  I guess the incoming water and sedimentation will re-adjust things over time.  Anybody know?


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