Habitat and Conservation

Of all Places
a Mountain Creek Restored in South Carolina

3 Mins read


David D. Armstrong

The warm water, weed choked pond, smothered at least three springs and devastated cold-water flora and fauna.

Arobust native Eastern Brook Trout population in South Carolina? Yes, thanks to the: Mountain Bridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited (MBTU), Naturaland Trust, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), plus donations from several contributors, and the hard work of numerous dedicated volunteers.

Literally a few feet south of the South Carolina – North Carolina border, and only a short distance from the Eastern Continental Divide, at least three springs in a mountain bog had been smothered by a pond created by an earthen dam. Neglected, it became plugged and overgrown. The pond, thriving on inattention, became a heat sink, stocked with warm water species and overgrown by thickets of warm water plants.

The springs constitute the headwaters of Matthews Creek, designated by the State as a premier, cold water trout stream. As the creek stumbles down its high gradient course under dense canopies, it rejuvenates a bit with the aid of several minor tributaries, to gloriously cascade over the 350’ Raven Cliff Falls in Caesar’s Head State Park, a popular destination for hikers and photographers. Its waters continue to flow through pristine lands before joining the Saluda River system, a popular trout fishery, that slakes the thirst of many South Carolina cities and towns, recreates the weary, and invigorates private and public lands before merging with the Atlantic Ocean.

The dam and pond constructed years ago compromised the flora, fauna, and lower riparian stakeholders, as the unmaintained “improvements” were ignored and remained, uh — unmaintained.

The dam is to the left; the pond is overgrown.

The restoration was successful because the Naturaland Trust, with a grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank, purchased the tract and established a coalition of diverse conservation groups that provided expertise, labor, and financing.

State and Federal agencies provided critical support and funding, as did local water districts. MBTU and Trout Unlimited made substantial manpower and financial contributions. Once the plan was finalized, numerous permits were obtained, the pond was drained, the dam removed, and the area graded and stabilized with native plants.

MBTU’s Gary Davis readies the siphon drain.

MBTU’s Gary Davis with a USFWS contractor.

Resting after a morning’s work, MBTU’s Ken Baerwalde, Jon McKay, Gary Davis, Simons Welter, and Tom Theus, with “Shug”, his Boykin Spaniel. The Boykin Spaniel is South Carolina’s Official State Dog. Photo by Frank Holleman.

July 2019 – Dam removal and grading completed.

Pure, cold, high-quality water now bubbles from springs on its journey to the ocean.

July 2021- A view of the mountain bog (former pond) from where the dam once stood. Lands have been stabilized with native plants with no erosion. Cold spring water now flows!

As elevations decline, the waters soon warm, but native flora and fauna again thrive, and to their delight, lower riparian owners receive cleaner water.

The water courses over 200 miles to the ocean. While proportionally insignificant, but philosophically significant, the ocean receives a few drops of higher quality water. Kudos to Trout Unlimited and all it stands for by restoring clean, cold water to watersheds in decline from July 2021 – Right below where the dam once stood, Matthews Creek slips under a dense canopy of tangled mountain laurel and rhododendron on its steep journey to the South Saluda River. ill-conceived actions and inactions of a few, to the detriment of all.

David Armstrong is the Legal Advisor to Trout Unlimited’s National Board of Trustees and its Executive Committee, and a long-standing member of the Mountain Bridge Chapter, Greenville, South Carolina. All non-attributed photographs are by the author.

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