The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Property Owners Team Up On River Project – Brevard NC


November 28, 2016

Lois and Carl Ganner, along with neighbor Woody Platt, teamed up on the project. (Times photo by Park Baker)

Two neighboring local landowners recently teamed up to return a section of the East Fork of the French Broad River to a more natural state.

The severely eroded stream bank was graded back, and manmade installations were used to slow water and create pools, which serve not only as habitat but also as buffers.

Both Carl and Lois Ganner, along with neighbor Woody Platt, saw the potential to really restore the East Fork River to its original flow and appearance by drastically reducing the amount of sediment built up in the river.

The conservation conversation took shape after the two homeowners, who live across the river from each other, witnessed huge chunks of riverbank falling into the water during periods of heavy rain.

One of the major weaknesses in the river at this point was that there was no forest buffer along its banks, so during periods of heavy rain the land would flood. Sedimentation raises the water's temperature and also clogs the gills and membranes of the many species of animals that live there.

Fish like the native Brook trout and the Eastern Hellbender make their homes in the pools in the East Fork River.

The stream is stocked by hatcheries, and is classified as a Class C high quality trout stream, and fed by the tributaries flowing out of the soon-to-be-opened Headwaters State Forest.

The neighbors qualified for an $118,000 grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a federal program that provides grant assistance to restore degraded waters, among other initiatives.

The Transylvania County Soil and Water Conservation District also sponsored two grants from the N.C. Division of Water Resources. Two separate grants totaled $96,141.

These were not county funds, but each grant required that a local entity sponsor the project.

The Ganner property is also the location of the ZZ-Zip Canopy Tours, a zip-line adventure business. Ganner said that one bank of the river was at one point 15 feet tall, but car sized chunks would fall into the river during floods.

"It took us five years to complete this project, and I'm really happy with how it turned out," Carl said. "The planting phase has yet to come, and the lack of rain isn't helping. But for now, the riverbank is stabilized. The next step is to seed the bank, but we're just waiting on rain. This project is going to play a significant role in keeping the French Broad free of sediment. It will still get muddy when it rains, but we won't be contributing tons of sand downstream anymore."

At the edge of the river, contractors cut the riverbank back on an angle to increase the volume of water the river can handle.

Engineers then installed a series of "j-hooks" to slow the water down, so then it drops into a deep pool. Those hooks are buried and sunken logs, which actually create the perfect amount of rise in the water.

Engineers also installed "brush tows," which are 5- or 6-foot-long sections of tree tops and brush smashed into the edge on each turn to slow the current down and which also provide great habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was also involved in the project. Anita Goetz, an aquatics biologist, said that during the project seven hellbenders were found in the stream. Goetz said it was surprising since the water quality conditions were not what hellbenders favor.

"We think they were hanging out here due to the abundance of crayfish, which is mainly what they eat," she said. "We came to work to move mostly fish, so we were surprised when we pulled out the third one, but we actually moved seven of them out of here."

Goetz said the project was a priority for the Fish and Wildlife Service due to it being a high quality trout stream, and that the watershed above it was also a part of the recently established Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.

"One of the stressors for the state that has been identified as 'priority' has been sedimentation and lack of forested buffer, which is exactly what happened on this site," said Goetz. "We basically had what we called a 'migrating meander,' which means that without a forested buffer, the stream will keep moving around when it floods. The only way to stop it is to stabilize it in place. We have a lot of important species, so when you have the aquatic habitat, it's important to do what we can."

Goetz said the design of the river restoration project would help sink sediment, while providing great trout habitat.

Woody Platt is an avid trout fisherman and when he moved onto the property about six years ago, one of the first things he did was call Jeff Parker, with the county soil and water department. Platt also singled out John Witherspoon with Conservation Advisors of North Carolina for his help with the grant application.

"I think this is a great example of how two neighboring land owners can get on the same page," Platt said. "We were all concerned about this stretch of water. So, we put our heads together and looked under every rock for funding. We applied for a Clean Water Management grant maybe five years ago, and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy helped us with the original grant application, but we kept getting kicked back, but last November we got the approval for a sizable amount of money. "Then we just started calling everyone we know to help get the funding for this thing. It's pretty amazing how it all came together. We're super proud of all this."


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