Volunteers at the stream restoration site in Maggie Valley

RESTORED — Employees from Haywood Waterways and Jennings Environmental, along with several volunteers, put the finishing touches on a stream restoration project behind Elevated Mountain Distilling in Maggie Valley Monday morning.

MAGGIE VALLEY — The dull sound of mallets pounding stakes could be heard near the stream behind Elevated Mountain Distillery Monday morning.

That repetitive thudding was the ambience of improvement, as the finishing touches were being put on a week-long stream restoration project along the bank of Jonathan Creek.

The project’s main goal was to improve bank stabilization and decrease a severe case of erosion – erosion that had been lowering water quality and creating safety hazards for those attempting to enter the stream.

The precipitous bank along Jonathan Creek before the stream restoration project.

BEFORE - The precipitous bank along Jonathan Creek before the stream restoration project.

The initiative was orchestrated by Haywood Waterways, a local non-profit that focuses on stream improvement in Haywood County. The organization established partnerships with the Town of Maggie Valley, Elevated Mountain Distilling, the Pigeon River Fund and Jennings Environmental to take the project from idea to reality.

The restoration, which began Oct. 1, turned a precipitous stream bank into a smoothed-out plot of land that will provide much easier – and safer – access to the water for those wanting to fish or swim. The land is owned by Elevated Mountain Distilling, but has been made available to the public through as easement with the Town of Maggie Valley.

“It used to be a five to six foot drop to the waterfront,” said Dave Angel, principal owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling. “I always thought, man, if a fisherman slid the wrong way [trying to enter the stream] and hit their head, they could drown. So we need to do something about this.”

Dave Angel, principal owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling

ANGEL - Dave Angel, the principal owner of Elevated Mountain Distilling, was worried that the erosion-caused vertical drop along the bank of Jonathan Creek was posing a hazard to swimmers and fishermen attempting to enter the water.

The craggy bank wasn’t the only issue.

During the 1940s or ‘50s, two old buses had been buried along the bank in an attempt to provide stability. Those buses had begun to rust and atrophy, causing additional water quality issues – in a stream widely regarded for its cleanliness, nonetheless – as well as general safety concerns.

The interior parts of the vehicles had already been removed, so leaking fluids weren’t a problem. But the unsightly and dangerous old vehicles still needed to go. They were successfully removed last week by backhoes without “any real detrimental impact to the river,” according to Greg Jennings, principal engineer of Jennings Environmental.

An old bus in Jonathan Creek

BEFORE — The stream bank along Jonathan Creek behind Elevated Mountain Distilling was severely eroded and held in place by a pair of buses that had been buried to provide stabilization in the ‘40s or ‘50s. The vehicles had begun to rust and atrophy, deteriorating the water quality and causing safety hazards.

The practice of burying old vehicles into banks for stabilization purposes – and, unfortunately, disposal – seems to have been “common practice” in Western North Carolina in the mid-20th century, said Jennings. Those vehicles run the gamut from cars to trucks to buses to railroad cars, and each is equally environmentally unfriendly.

“All of it is bad for stream health,” said Jennings. “And it’s also a public nuisance.”

That sound of hammering Monday morning? It came from mallets securing coir net to the rocky earth. Made from coconut fiber, coir net is biodegradable and durable, and will slow the erosion process in the coming years. Native plants and trees will be sown on top of the net to beautify the area and increase overall stream cleanliness.

“A healthy stream isn’t complete without healthy streamside vegetation,” said Eric Romaniszyn, executive director of Haywood Waterways. “Once grass is established, it does a great job of preventing rain from eroding land...”

Representatives from Haywood Waterways and Angel are entertaining the prospect of using the location, which includes a pavilion, to host collaborative events – perhaps even live music. There’s been talk of a get-together as early as November to celebrate the bank’s makeover and the sowing of native plants, though nothing official has been announced as of yet.

The creek bank at the completion of the restoration project

AFTER — After a week of work, the buses were removed and the erosion on the stream bank was significantly decreased. The area, which is open to the public, now provides much safer access to the water for those looking to fish or swim. Native plants will be sown in the coming months to increase stream health and beautify the bank.

“We are excited about the possibility of hosting an event here,” said Haywood Waterways project manager Caitlin Worsham. “This is a great opportunity to show the public all the hard work that has gone into making this project a reality.”

Whatever the future holds, the area’s new look will provide a relaxing escape for anybody interested in using it.

“Next year, when the grass has grown again, it’s going to be phenomenal,” said Angel. “It encourages more people to enjoy the creek, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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