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

August 4, 2011

Torn Still, by the Tornado

Filed under: About & reflection, Central Raleigh, East Raleigh, Nature Lore, South Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:09 pm

Tornado Damage on Marlborough Road 3 Months Later

The April tornado is 3 months past and yet unredressed signs of it  are still scattered about Raleigh.  I haven’t posted in all that time, finishing the school year and having a summer  swallowed by book arts, as I made paper, printed, and started a Paper Plant blog.  Before covering the rich naturing Cara and I have done in spite of my new blogging obsession, I wanted to address the previous post and show that East and Central Raleigh are still reeling as fall approaches.

The tornado totally changed the visual landscape of my regular bike rides.  Looking from the back lower corner of the federal courthouse campus at East and Hargett, an entire city block was just razed.  From that spot on the shoulder of Raleigh’s cap, it now feesl as if you are looking southeast straight down into the coastal plain.

Martin and East Street downtown after April tornado

Mount Hope Cemetery April 16, 2011

Mount Hope Cemetery didn’t get covered in the first post, but a visit last week revealed many of the same sights I had photographed but not published in April.  It and City Cemetery are still closed.

click on cemetery pics to enlarge

    

old cedar torn by April tornado at Mt Hope

Marlborough Road in East Raleigh still looks like the disaster zone it is.  My old childhood creek runs beside it and has become a tangled mass of dead trees scattered with stagnant pools.  The city is making plans to clean it up, but it will be a while.

 

torn pine on Marlborough Road

Marlborough Street hit close to home, but the damage is widespread.  The Raleigh Public Record provides this info from the city’s waterway inventory:

The report stated that a total of 1,436 trees were found damaged as part of the inventory. The areas with the most debris were areas near Beehnon Way and Tryon Road, Marborough Road and King Charles Road, Skycrest Road and Capital Boulevard, and Valley Stream Drive and Louisburg Road.

RPR did a good general look at Raleigh damage in this post.  The damage to nature is most relevant to this blog, but we felt very lucky after trees were decapitated 30 yards from our house, and we had many friends who sustained damage anywhere from annoying to catastrophic.   Many of them have praised Chris Crew of FEMA for his TLC to friends in this situation.

Nature knocks!!!  Sometimes hard.  Take care of yourself, now.

Washington School and downtown from Mount Hope Cemetery

March 2, 2009

March Mad Beauty

snowy-oakwood-trees_1_1

   A late snow and a schoolday off to blog about it!  It didn’t take long to find a snow paradise.  The Oakwood Inn’s block sported the lacy treetops above.  But I was headed to the greenway.  I decided to check out an old favorite – the east end of Buckeye Trail.

   This wonderful view is the edge of the meadow at Buckeye Trail’s east end off Milburnie.  Down this oldest section of Raleigh’s greenways is a vista that provoked one of the first thoughts that originated this project – and it was a book project long before I ever knew what a blog was.  The scene used to look like a cathedral of treetops – but the loss of a huge red oak several years ago changed the look.  What’s left is seen below.

   The missing tree was on the right, and when it was there, I was ready to write a book partly to tell people to come here and take a deep breath.  It is still a very nice section of greenway.  I got to see the baby beeches of a couple of posts ago in a new light, literally.  The gentle snow provided a chance to see water moving across the greenway: in a freshet, and being blocked by the asphalt.  The creek was medium high, which I documented with a current shot of my favorite log-sitting spot.  Once I had done that, I knew I should head over to Hodge Road and take shots of my water level standard spots, which I’m documenting over on the nature projects blog.

snowy-landfill-meadow_1_1

The March snow was mighty pretty!

December 16, 2007

Raleigh Geography

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, Geographic Areas, Raleigh History, waterways — Tags: , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:19 am

Raleigh in 1872

Google Map of Raleigh

Topo Map of My Childhood

Google Image of Buckeye Trail

   Raleigh is, of course, an invented city.   Planned in advance at a tavern somewhere between Litchford and Falls of the Neuse, drawn in regular squares, purchased from Joel Lane for about $3 an acre, 400 acres of the one thousand purchased were divided and sold in lots to the prominent families who expected to inhabit it, with five large squares reserved for community purposes.  It is reminiscient of D.C. in its ordered squares and patterns of street names, but nevertheless a fairly typical large Southern town in many respects, with a seasoning of “cow-path roads” to leaven those squares.  The early city expanded its boundaries in 1857, avoided destruction in 1865, and then then expanded again in 1907 with some of the South’s first “suburbs,” – serviced by trolley lines!  Hayes Barton, named for the deer-filled English homeland of Sir Walter, was a prime example.  Raleigh’s growth went straight north for many decades after that, but has recently expanded in lots of directions -though not evenly.  Rural scenes can still be had with just a few minutes driving going south or especially east.

********** 

   Crabtree Creek dominates Raleigh geography, just as it does this blog.  It drains a huge swath of land across Wake County.  Its head waters are in west Cary and it empties into the Neuse at Anderson Point just off US 64 East.  In between, it makes a slow northward curve that defined the Beltline right of way with useless lowlands, then slopes southward to its union with the Neuse.  If Crabtree stayed full, it would be a river itself, and it often outdoes the Neuse in flow after heavy rains.  But ours is a low flow water system with periodic normal droughts.  Crabtree often barely moves through the huge ditches it has carved into the sediments of lowland Raleigh.  When it roars, it scours these floodplains with a muddy concoction of tree trunks, lumber and flotsam that can dress the landscape in astonishing sights.  Thus the cheap right-of-way.  But no more!  Stores on huge slabs of fill dirt, townhouses on stilts, rich slopeside houses with mandatory first floor basements – Raleigh has embraced the floodplains.  And Crabtree has been ditched and channeled, dammed and diverted to save the shopping center.  Walnut Creek’s much smaller but intricate watershed drains the southern half of the city.  And Swift Creek below that flows through and forms some of the most fascinating wildlife areas in the Triangle.

************ 

   Water is what maps an area.  We get ours from Falls Lake, due north, and return the treated waste water to the Neuse southeast of here. Crabtree and Walnut Creek wrap around the high ground of downtown and North Hills like bow legs, reaching the river just a couple of miles apart.  Our waterways have gained the dual importance of riparian buffer and wildlife habitat, and the parks and greenways map right on to the waterways with few exceptions. A map of wildlife inside the beltline might as well be a map of the creeks.  So that is where this blog will tend to find itself – streamside.

heron-facing

December 2, 2007

Welcome to The Natural History of Raleigh

The Natural History of Raleigh


Raleigh lies at the edge of the Piedmont, edging the eastward coastal plain with long ridges of ancient, deformed and partly rotted granite called the Raleigh Belt on geology maps. Tucked into these ridges are gnarled streamcut valleys and occasional domes of harder, younger granite that have withstood the slow erosion of the Piedmont “peneplain” – the huge flattened wedge of material washed down over millions of years from the formerly towering Appalachian mountains. 
The topographical features of the Piedmont are not pushed or folded up, but instead cut into this gently sloping plateau by the slow relentless action of water. “Our landscape … deepens”, says Michael Godfrey in the bible of Piedmont naturalism. In Raleigh, this process has created a broad rippled dome that shoulders down to the beginnings of the Coastal Plain. The gently rolling hills of clay to our west and north represent a very different landscape from the sandy flats just to our south and east.

***********

I learned this topography bicycling around central Raleigh ( which, in the late fifties and early sixties, was all the Raleigh there was). I experienced this topography gravitationally and intuitively. As a teenager I discovered that downtown sat on a flattened dome, so that if I got a good start in the parking lot of Tabernacle Baptist Church on Person Street, I could ride all the way home from choir practice no hands, nearly all the way going downhill to my suburb at the edge of Crabtree Creek’s floodplain in East Raleigh. As a young child in this neighborhood, I has already fallen in love with Crabtree Creek, which along with Walnut Creek to the south, carves and shapes Raleigh’s lowlands. Crabtree became a strong symbol in my life, framing a big chunk of my childhood memories and haunting my early bad poetry.

***********

Now as an adult I find the city has paved and bridged all of my childhood creek haunts and more, providing a greenway system that maps the waterways and helps defend a buffer of streamside woods that is the final refuge for an astounding variety of wildlife and botanical wonders. These gar, coons, deer, turtles and woodpeckers eke out a co-existence with an emerging mid-sized city. Raleigh wants and tries so hard to be a “real” city, with all that implies. Yet it retains some of the best features of a Southern town, not least of which is close proximity to authentic rural landscape. And one of the best and most-promoted urban features is the park and greenway system. With much continued support, this resource can assure us of a unique place in the hierarchy of national destinations. Join me to explore Raleigh’s parks, greenways, and other natural areas. I promise you will be impressed by the sights and nature lore to be found inside the beltline or within a mile of it.

***********

IMG_0090_1_1.JPG IMG_0566_1_1.JPG IMG_0772_1_1.JPG IMG_0613_1_1.JPG       go to Natural History of Raleigh Photos 

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.