Huge Logjam Cleared From River
One of the largest logjams in Transylvania County’s recent history is now a thing of the past thanks to the joint effort of affected landowners and county and state organizations that helped fund and coordinate the debris removal.
Before work began last Monday, the logjam stretched more than 200 feet across the French Broad River just a quarter of a mile upstream of the river’s confluence with the Little River.
But now, thanks to the work of employees and subcontractors of Bradley Grading and Excavating, the company that placed the low bid on the project, the logjam has been successfully cleared.
Bob Twomey, district natural resource conservationist with the Transylvania County Soil and Water Conservation District, said the quick work the contractors made of the logjam exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“They’ve done a magnificent job with this,” he said. “It’s gone far faster than what any of us expected.”
When the contractors broke the dam last week, the strength of the built-up water flowing through the small channel was a powerful thing to behold.
“You could feel the power of it,” he said. “It wasn’t like it was whitewater or anything. There was just a tremendous volume of water moving through the system. You could just imagine the power of the water moving through there.”
Twomey said it took more than half a day for all of the water to drain from behind the logjam.
“When it was all said and done, we lost very little of that debris downstream,” Twomey said. “At most, we probably only lost 1 percent of all of that debris.”
The recovery of the debris is credited to the work of the backhoe driver, Jason Hoxit, a subcontractor with RJC Construction.
As of Friday, the workers had removed about 75 percent of the debris from the river, with the remaining 25 percent scheduled to be removed this week.
The debris pulled from the river is being used as fill material to restore the riverbanks close to what they were before the logjam caused the river to begin changing course.
Twomey said the river’s width is usually around 95 feet but the logjam widened it to about 250 feet.
During the two years that the logjam blocked the original flow of the river, Twomey estimates that around 10,000 tons of soil — more than 20 feet of farmland — was lost downstream as a result of water flowing around the logjam.
Hoxit said the removal process has been going as well as they could have hoped.
“So far so good,” he said, as he stood overlooking the free-flowing river Thursday. “The weather has been cooperating and everything is going as planned.”
Earlier in the week, however, during the initial stages the work was tenuous.
Hoxit, who said he has never seen a logjam like this before, had also never undertaken a job of this nature before.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “That’s what we like is a good challenge.”
The work required a unique approach.
To get the machinery out to the logjam, Hoxit and Landon Bradley, owner of Bradley Grading and Excavating, worked to construct a makeshift road that stretched from the eroding bank out across the logjam.
Once the pathway was built, Hoxit headed across it on a backhoe tractor and began slowly removing the debris, some of which were trees more than 5 feet in diameter.
“It was a little bit rocky when you was sitting out there on it,” he said. “You just have to be very careful and pay attention to what you grab and make sure you weren’t pulling something out from under yourself.”
Hoxit was a bit nervous when they first began, but he quickly settled into the job once he saw that the machines were stable on the pathway they had created.
When the work is completed, the new river banks will be comprised of a 3-foot-tall rock wall that has been backfilled with soil and the debris from the river.
Twomey said the goal is to return the riverbanks to as close to their natural state as possible.
“The engineer designed a stone coffer dam that will restore the original bank of the French Broad River,” Twomey said. “Behind that stone blowout there will be a flat graded area that will end up being the bank flow bench, which will allow the water to slowly spread out before it builds up and goes out into the field.”
Twomey said that because of the massive erosion that occurred, the actual river width of the restored section might be around 115 feet when completed.
“Our intent is to restore the width of the river to as close to 95 feet as possible,” he said.
In total, 1,260 tons of stone will be used in the restoration project, with 900 tons of that stone being used to restore the bank along Darrell Hooper’s farm, which was most affected by erosion.
The stone cofferdam will also contain a few root wads that will add biological diversity to the dam. The total estimated cost of the project is around $80,000.
Twomey said the project would not have been possible had it not been for the variety of different people who worked together.
The landowners who own property on either side of the river shared the costs of the project.
Additional funds were provided by a state grant, which was matched by county funds.
“Recreation-wise this logjam is no longer a threat to life,” Twomey said.
The workers found a Jon boat — a type of watercraft that is larger in size than a canoe and often used for hunting and Fishing — trapped beneath the logjam.
The boat is believed to have been lost last fall when the two men who were paddling the boat were forced to abandon it when they came upon the logjam unexpectedly.
The boat capsized against the debris jam and was lost.
Twomey said the men are fortunate they were able to escape alive.
In the two years that the logjam has clogged the river way, Twomey said that several other boaters have reported having to navigate around it.
“The banks here are 10 to 12 feet vertical,” he said. “Some way or another they had to figure out how to navigate their way around that.”
Twomey said the logjam was not only an inconvenience to recreational users but also very dangerous.
“In high waters, with the water moving up against this debris jam, the force of the water is so powerful that if a person wasn’t careful they could’ve been held up against the strainer,” he said. “They could’ve drowned in the blink of an eye. But luckily that didn’t happen.”
This summer, paddlers across the state are expected to begin making more frequent trips down the entire length of the river as the French Broad Paddle Trail officially opens for use.
The official trail will have seven campsites spread across the river’s length. One of those sites — and the only one in Transylvania County — is located just a quarter of a mile downstream of where the logjam once blocked the river.
Twomey said the logjam removal could not had come at a better time.
“The coinciding of the two events is wonderful,” he said. “The river is a viable economic activity. It has a lot of untapped potential, and we hope that by restoring this part right here it will encourage people to continue to use the river as a paddle trail.”
Twomey said that now that the logjam is gone and the new campsite is ready to be used he believes more and more boaters will begin to utilize the lower portion of the French Broad in Transylvania County.
“Historically, the upper half of the river down to Hap Simpson Park has basically been what’s been used,” he said. “Now this is going to help encourage and open all of this area. These 16 miles of river haven’t been used up to their full potential. How this is going to affect the economy no one is really sure just yet, but I can’t believe it can have anything but positive benefits.”
Sid Cullipher, the owner of Headwaters Outfitters, said he hopes to begin offering overnight and multi-night canoe trips through Transylvania County this summer.
How it Began
The logjam began when two large trees fell into the river and created the skeleton for what would eventually become a natural dam.
Twomey said the trees in the logjam would take two men to reach around each one of them.
“The trees were so massive that everything that flowed up against them got trapped,” he said.
As high water deposited more and more debris into the river during each flood, the logjam grew larger, which further exacerbated the problem.
“Every time there was a high water more debris would come down and all of the perforations would get plugged,” he said. “So all the river knew to do was to keep cutting around it because nothing could get through it.”
Twomey said that while small logjams are relatively common, what makes this one unique was its size.
“This is the biggest one that anyone around here that I’ve talked to can remember seeing,” Twomey said.
Twomey said that while the logjam on the upper French Broad is unique for its size, other comparably sized logjams are common on rivers of similar size as the French Broad.
“It goes to show that rivers are dynamic,” he said. “Rivers are constantly trying to change. Some of the changes are subtle, some are dramatic.”
Hope For Prevention
Twomey said that the newly formed French Broad River Working Group (FBRWG) is currently looking into having a crew that will work to prevent future logjams from occurring by doing preventive logging along the river.
“In the future they hope to be able to float this river and work voluntarily with land owners in order to limb a lot of these trees that are beginning to lean out over the water,” he said.
By cutting heavy limbs that grow on the side of the tree overhanging the river, the tree is less likely to fall into the river and cause a problem, Twomey said.
The group recently sent out a survey to landowners along the river to assess their willingness to allow preventative logging to be done on their property.
“Ultimately, it is still the landowners responsibility to remove the trees from their side of the river if they are going to,” he said. “Realizing how expensive that is, the FBRWG is going to try to work with these folks — if they can get the funding — to help them defray the cost of limbing trees that in a matter of time are going to end up falling across the river.”
The 36 miles of the river from Blantyre to the forks of the river at Rosman have a number of trees that are threatening to fall down and cause logjams if no preventive work is done, Twomey said.
Cullipher, who is also working with the FBRWG, hopes to take a proactive approach to any future logjams by removing them as soon as they are discovered.
“We all have seen the example of what can happen if you don’t have both early detection of jams, but also an action plan to take care of the problem,” Cullipher said. “That’s what we are hoping to be able to do with the FBRWG.”
Cullipher said their goal looking forward is to create a group that can care for the river.
Twomey said the results of the ongoing problems and removal effort of Transylvania County’s most recent logjam is something that people across the region have been following.
“There are a lot of people watching to see what happens,” Twomey said. “This is one of the biggest repair jobs that we’ve ever done as it relates to a blowout in the river. We’ll see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
For more information on how to get involved with the French Broad River Working Group, contact Eric Caldwell at the Transylvania County District Conservation office at 884-3109.