The Transylvania Times -

TNRC Hears About Watershed - Brevard NC


January 3, 2019

During the most recent Transylvania County Natural Resources Council (TNRC) meeting, the council heard from Maria Wise, the Mills River Partnership (MRP) co-ordinator.

The TNRC hosts monthly meetings of local public land managers, environmental nonprofit representatives and con-cerned private citizens who hear from a presenter each month. Wise briefed the council on the MRP, its work and mission.

The Mills River Watershed consists of 73.4 square miles with three main creeks flowing out of Pisgah National Forest: Bradley Creek and both the south and North forks of the Mills River. Seventy-seven percent of the watershed is on U.S. Forest Service land, 7 percent is residential and 1 percent is described as high density — the town of Mills River.

The nonprofit MRP is focused on maintaining water quality in the watershed and since its founding in 1998 it has maintained a board of local government representatives, members of the agricultural community and conservation organ-izations.

The Mills River is the primary source of drinking water for both Henderson County and the city of Hendersonville. It serves as the secondary source of water for the city of Asheville and southern Buncombe County. Through Best Management Practices (BMPs), the MRP has supported not only the drinking water supply, but also helped local farmers and private landowners to implement practices such as agricultural spray sheds, field borders, stormwater ponds, road stabilization projects, and stream and river bank stabilization projects.

BMPs are described by the N.C. Forest Service as structures such as runoff diversions, silt fences for construction projects, stream buffers and groundcover vegetation over bare soil areas. BMPs are also described as “processes” used in planning and finishing forestry practices.

The MRP has conducted backyard stream repair workshops for landowners, helping people with streams on their property stabilize river banks by planting live stakes of indigenous species that root deeply to make river banks stronger during flooding. Wise said the MRP has planted around 5,000 livestakes throughout the watershed.

“We use a lot of silky dogwood and elderberry, which has a riparian benefit, but also it’s just a great feeder for wildlife and humans,” Wise said. “We also plant nine bark, a stemmed plant that looks similar to a birch. The reason we use those species is because there are only certain ones where you can take a stick and stick it in the ground during the dormant time of the year and it will come back in the spring. It’s also cheaper. You can put in so many livestakes and get a huge return in root mass. You couldn’t do that with bare root plant. It would be far too expensive.”

Wise noted that the MRP just completed its riparian buffer assessment this last year and, ideally, the MRP would like to see riparian buffers averaging 30 feet on streams and creeks in the Mills River watershed. The MRP has also hosted heritage tours along the Upper South Mills River Heritage Corridor, which is in Transylvania County.

The tour leads hikers into the headwaters of the Mills River, with a discussion on some of the historic homes and churches that were once located there, including the Sitton iron forge and the Gillespie family rifle works.

Much of the forge’s ore was mined near the base of Little Mountain at the headwaters of Boylston Creek.

The first Gillespie settled in Rosman after moving from Pennsylvania. One of his sons followed Daniel Boone into the wilderness of these mountains, learning all there is to know about being a mountain man.

Philip Gillespie became well known for his craftsmanship making rifles, and he used the power of the South Mills River to operate his forge.

Many of the men who left this area to fight in the Civil War were carrying Gillespie rifles. Gillespie amassed a small fortune in his work and hid it when he left to join the fight himself. Somewhere, buried along the headwaters, is a wealth of Bechler gold coins and about 50 gallons of brandy.

Gillespie never returned from the Civil War, and his secret died with him. Check the MRP website for more information about the heritage tours.

The MRP is also involved in the Cantrell Creek Project, an effort to reroute the Cantrell Creek Trail, which crosses the creek itself nine times, connecting the South Mills River Trail and Squirrel Gap Trail. The Pisgah Chapter of the Trout Unlimited, a conservation fisheries nonprofit, secured a grant to reroute the trail and decommission the old one. Sedimentation is the largest form of water pollution in Western North Carolina. The project will greatly reduce the amount of sediment that winds up in the South Mills River and protect sensitive wildlife habitat.

Last January, the MRP received a $700,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which will be used to install a chemical handling facility. Some of that grant will also be used in a partnership with Living Web Farm, an education and research organic farm, for a stream restoration project on Foster’s Creek.

The MRP is also actively involved in local events, including the first annual DuPont Forest Festival that took place this September. The MRP hosted a “Science on the Water” workshop, which invited families, and especially children, to learn about the micro invertebrates and bio-diversity in the Little River.

Education is a big part of what the MRP does.

Throughout the calendar year, the MRP hosts many different educational workshops, including its rain garden certification workshop.

Rain gardens are shallow depressions that serve as landscape features that collect and treat storm water, which, in turn, reduce flooding and pollution within local waterways.

The workshops are usually one-day events and offer a chance to size up and design a rain garden, with detailed construction techniques.

The MRP also hosts backyard stream restoration workshops on stretches of local streams and creeks that may have been “straightened” in the past by farmers or previous landowners. When flooding occurs, a straightened creek will allow water to pick up speed quickly, undercutting stream banks and dumping sediment into the water.

The workshops focus on restoring bends to streams and creeks, sloping banks and planting indigenous species of plants along them.

In 2016, the MRP won an award from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at the annual Water Resources Research Institute’s conference. Any individual, group, organization or agency that works to protect drinking water at its source is eligible.

The MRP was recognized in the “surface waters planning category.”

The DEQ has documented stressors on the Mills River watershed that impact the wildlife, habitat and, ultimately, humans.

These stressors are related directly to development and agriculture. Sedimentation from development is an ongoing issue, and contaminants such as pesticide, herbicides and fertilizers, when not applied properly, wash into the waterways after heavy rains. Land use surveys of the Mills River watershed, according to the DEQ, have indicated that land use needs to be conducted in such a way to protect the watershed and that stream buffers need to be wider and more prevalent throughout.

Wise said that in the past year she has become more concerned about development issues and construction sites causing more turbidity, or sedimentation, in the river than the farms.

“In my opinion, the most important part of the plan is identifying problem spots along the Mills River that would be good projects to work on with land owners,” she said. “I would say about half those projects have been completed now and a few more now have existing designs when the time is right.”

To learn more about the MRP and water quality in the Mills River watershed, visit


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