The Transylvania Times -

Cantrell Creek Project Completed Thanks To Several Groups – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 10/18/2019 at 10:27am

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Wednesday to celebrate the finishing of the Cantrell Creek project in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest.

The Pisgah Conservancy (TPC), Trout Unlimited (TU), the U.S. Forest Service and a group of supporting organizations announced the ribbon cutting ceremony.

TU's Pisgah Chapter and the U.S. Forest Service initiated the Cantrell Creek project several years ago after recognizing that the condition of the trail was putting substantial sediment into the creek.

Cantrell Creek is located between Wolf Ford and the Turkey Pen parking area, located off N.C. 280.

In many places, the Cantrell Creek Trail had merged with the stream channel, eroding soil into the stream, and in some locations the creek had been forced into a narrow channel, resulting in small landslides into the creek. The absence of riparian vegetation along the stream bank also contributed to the sedimentation issue.

Cantrell Creek is a tributary to the South Mills River, and rare species such as the Eastern Hellbender and Southern Appalachian brook trout inhabit this watershed. These species need clean, cold, well-oxygenated water free of excessive sedimentation.

Charles Crolley, the TU Pisgah Chapter's communications director, points out that "aquatic insects are a critical part of a trout's diet."

"Sediment fills the spaces between rocks, where those insects live, reducing the habitat available and may ultimately lead to a decline in the bug population," Crolley said. "Sediment can also lead to an increase in overall stream temperatures, particularly in the summer months. Over time, this can affect the stream's ability to support healthy populations of trout and other cold water species."

TU began fundraising for the project, and soon TPC joined the effort, providing project management efforts and additional fundraising.

The project was complicated by its remote location.

"Access was a challenge at each step along the way," said John Cottingham, executive director of TPC, "making it difficult to get qualified contractors – or volunteers – in to this location."

The nearest part of the project site was about 5 miles from a vehicle access point, and the project required several pieces of heavy equipment to do the work. The contractor had to ford the South Fork Mills River and Cantrell Creek in several places with heavy equipment just to reach the site.

This made it impossible to start the project in periods when rainfall had swollen the rivers. Archaeologists and botanists also had to deal with the remoteness to conduct their work.

Several stream restoration contractors chose not to submit bids due to the challenges of accessing the site with heavy equipment. The primary contractor on the project, Trail Dynamics LLC, spent two days clearing and refurbishing the access trail along Mills River just to get its equipment to the site.

"Whether the work is done by hand or machine, remote work is much more costly than doing the same work right on the side of the road," said Dave Casey, district ranger for the Pisgah Ranger District. "It's also not just about getting from point A to point B – how you get there also matters. That's a big part of what we value about our trails, the character of them and how they move you through the forest."

The project included closing a portion of the old Cantrell Creek Trail, restoring aquatic habitat in Cantrell Creek, and building a new, sustainable 2-and-a-half-mile trail on a slope away from the creek.

As the project progressed and additional donations were received the plan was expanded to include trail maintenance on the South Mills River and Horse Cove Gap trails, as well as an additional segment of the Cantrell Creek Trail, and the replacement of a log footbridge near Cantrell Creek.


The stream restoration work required heavy equipment to shore up the stream bank using boulders and "log vanes" to prevent small landslides into the creek and to create attractive pool habitat for various aquatic creatures.

"The beauty of the stream restoration work that was done," said Cottingham, "is that the day after each section was finished you could hardly tell that there had been heavy equipment on the site."

The contractor, under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service hydrologist, was able to stabilize the stream bank, add woody debris to the stream (which adds habitat), add log structures to support the stabilization effort, and build additional pool and underwater structures attractive to fish and other species.

They also left sizable rocks in key locations to provide habitat for hellbenders.

"When finished, it all looked like it had been there for years," he said.

The new trail work has been equally successful. The project took a trail that was literally in the creek and relocated it up onto the overlooking slope. It now provides a connecting trail from the Squirrel Gap Trail down to the South Mills River.

Coalition of Supporters

The Cantrell Creek Project has been a group effort.

The Pisgah and Land of Sky Chapters of Trout Unlimited got the project rolling and raised over $40,000 of the total $150,000 cost, including acquiring contributions from the Mills River Partnership and the Orvis Corporation.

The Pisgah Conservancy served as project manager, and, by virtue of an agreement previously reached with the Forest Service, was able to engage private contractors approved by the Forest Service to conduct botanical and archaeological surveys required by law.

TPC contributed funding to the project, as well, and helped raise the additional funding needed, which came from a number of supporting parties.

"It's great to have a partner like TPC because part of their mission is to enhance the recreational experience of all visitors to Pisgah and not just one user group," said Casey. "Their presence can serve to increase the cohesive nature of any collaborative effort like this."

Early in the process Transylvania County Tourism (TCT) provided $20,000 to the project.

Grant Bullard, the TCT chair, said that "while tourism promotion is our primary goal, we are keenly aware that tourism has an impact, and we have an obligation as an organization to support projects that sustain and preserve our natural assets." TCT funded the Cantrell Creek Project based on a new program entitled Transylvania Always, which was created to support local sustainability efforts and other initiatives aimed at caring for the county's natural resources and improving visitor experiences.

"One of the reasons we're so excited about this project is its collaborative nature," said Bullard. "Sharing resources is a great way to achieve truly meaningful results. This project would not have been possible without the commitment of many groups. We look forward to being a partner in many more such worthy projects – and to help recruit other willing partners."

Outdoor retailer REI Co-op contributed $20,000 to the effort. The contribution is part of the co-op's effort to invest in nonprofits and community organizations that share the REI mission to protect public lands and ensure access to the outdoors for all.

Mountain bike manufacturers in the Southeast region and beyond have also supported the project.

For the last three years an informal group of bike component manufacturers have joined together to build a "superbike" each year that has been raffled off to support TPC. Funding from these raffles has been instrumental in supporting the Cantrell Creek Project, as well as other initiatives by TPC.

The Can'd Aid Foundation contributed $15,000 to the project.

"At Can'd Aid, we believe that increasing access to the outdoors is an important part of improving mental and physical well being for everyone, said Sarah Leavitt, the foundation's director of operations and programs. "That's why this people-powered effort to build and restore Cantrell Creek was a perfect opportunity to do just that."

Recognizing the benefit of having a contractor and equipment on site this far back in the forest, Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah secured a grant for $20,000 that allowed additional work to be done on Horse Cove Gap, Cantrell Creek and the South Mills River trails.

"It's always great to have support from a wide range of user groups," said Casey. "But this is going beyond support – this is real buy-in."


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