Raleigh Nature

August 21, 2012

Crabtree Canoe

Filed under: About & reflection, Central Raleigh, Crabtree Creek, Nature Lore, waterways — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 5:23 pm

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (click to enlarge)

One of my favorite ways to really plunge into nature inside the Beltline is putting a boat in above Lassiter Mill.  We took my Mad River solo and our blue tub of a kayak and made it up to North Hills Drive in reasonably high water.  That’s just about the first place it’s an issue: the water below Yadkin Drive is always as high as the dam and presents a long narrow lake-like stretch for easy canoeing.  Upstream, just below Glenwood Avenue, the creek is banked with a slate outcrop, hinting at the graphite, or plumbago lead, which is found higher up the slope.  The trip from the Lassiter Mill dam to Crabtree Valley Mall is possible in high enough water; round trip is less than 3 easy hours.

Spanish Moss on Crabtree Creek at Marlowe Drive

rock outcrop on Crabtree Creek at North Hills Drive

Blue heron in flight on Crabtree Creek

Cara spotted the blue heron standing on the side downstream on our return trip.  I was able to get my camera ready as i drifted into his view.  It was a pretty lucky shot, but you can see i was tracking him with the camera at least a little.  The butterfly was sipping from the mud on a small pebble beach where we rested.

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Having retired from fulltime teaching, I am developing my free-lance activities and hope that gigs as the Raleigh Naturalist will be a part of that!  I have taught Environmental Ed with emphasis on local ecology for the last ten years, and presented to the Bain Project artists group and the Wakefield Middle School Ecology Club.  If you know a way to keep me busy sharing about local waterways and nature lore, let me know.  Thanks

John Dancy-Jones  email: paperplantpressATyahoo.com

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

 

January 5, 2009

Favorite Raleigh spots – 2008

Filed under: About & reflection, Gems & Surprises — Tags: , , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 12:49 am

atlantic-ave-farm

     Well, Raleigh Nature is a year old – and haven’t we been through a lot, and boy, have I learned a lot!  This blog is just getting started in ways – more broad coverage of ALL of Raleigh ITBL, pages on invasive species, turtles and record trees, and addressing concerns and questions from readers, are all on my list.  But it was a good year and I’m very happy with the blog and most grateful for the responses.

     Above is a Google Earth snapshot of what this blog is really all about – lost in wilderness inside the beltline – in this case,  the woodlot off the greenway at Atlantic Ave and Hodge Road, which was recently destroyed.   Let’s enjoy them while they’re here!  Below are my Raleigh Nature favorites for 2008.

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Crabtree near Milburnie Rd.

My favorite place to sit on a log. 

   Amidst the large tree stands that line Buckeye Trail, the oldest and easternmost section of Raleigh’s greenways threads its way beside the deep meandering banks of Crabtree.  Here we are looking at the spot where Marsh Creek marsh spills over into Crabtree after a heavy rain.  Nice spot for animals to come down for a drink, and above is the marsh skyline to scour for hawks and herons.

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Lassiter Mill Dam

My favorite spots to drown worms.

   Lassiter Mill, above and below the dam, is a wonderful place to fish with children, for turtle food, or even to fool around with your flyrod.

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Yates Mill Pond

My favorite place to take a guest.  

   Yates Mill, with the old millworks, the gorgeously built new center displaying its history, a marked tree i.d. walk, a high ridge, a marshy meadow, and a fishing deck, has all anyone could desire from a nature outing.  It’s well outside the beltline but I love it too much to exclude it.

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Meadow off Sunnybrook

My favorite place to meadow tramp.

  The privately owned section of the old pecan farm surrounding Jones Lake is eventually doomed but is the best spot for seeing foxes, deer and footprints of those and more in the same trip.  Once it’s developed, I’ll have to settle for the county park across the highway.

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Rocky Branch at Dix Hill

My favorite place to jump rocks.

   Dix and the greenway that connects it to Centennial and Washington School represents a fantastic dog walk, frisbee throw, pecan pick, or walk of any length you desire.  Rocky Branch, displaced by the Western Boulevard extension, has retained some of its good character.

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Raleigh Swamp

My favorite place to watch birds

   Raleigh Swamp, which used to be irregular but has been made permanent by the damming effects of Raleigh Boulevard, has a large consistent and varied population of breeding and visiting birds.

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waterfall-close-up_1_1

My favorite place to listen to water.

   Jaycee park has a rock waterfall that, at two feet, is perhaps the largest inside the beltline.  It certainly is the prettiest of which I know.

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Longstreet greenway off Sawmill

My favorite place to photograph.

   This must be it, because this is my favorite photograph so far.  This creek borders the greenway which runs south beside Longstreet off Sawmill in north Raleigh. I’ll keep working on finding, and shooting, one even better.  Ya’ll have a great new year!!  Love, John

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.

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