By Tim Gardner
Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk has begun work on a community and sustainability project considered vital in multiple ways to the school, town and region–the dredging of the Historic Mill Pond on its campus.
The two-month process, reviewed and endorsed by officials of the Army Corps of Engineers, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Town of Banner Elk, aims to restore three to five feet of depth to the Mill Pond, which has been considered a landmark of community and environmental importance in Banner Elk for decades.
Lees-McRae College President Dr. Lee King offered High Country Press the following statement about the Mill Pond dredging: “Removing the sediment from the Mill Pond has been a major priority of the College, and I am very happy to see this project beginning. As an institution, we value our commitment to be good stewards of the natural environment, and this project fulfills a number of important strategic values for us. This will create a much healthier ecosystem for the Mill Pond and the Elk River, and the dredging method we will use has a minimal impact on water quality and the environment. The Mill Pond is literally the front door to the Banner Elk community, and improving this asset adds great value to the experience of our local residents and visitors.”
Throughout the dredging process a barge on the surface of the Mill Pond will collect and filter accumulated material. Water and sediment from the pond will be redirected through a hose and sent to filtering bags behind the Dan and Dianne May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which is situated adjacent to the Elk River on the campus of Lees-McRae. There the water will be filtered down to 10 microns before it is returned to Elk River.
Dr. King added that this is the most cost efficient process that could be used to conduct the dredging.
He also noted that the dredging project has been completed funded through private financial gifts and donations.
This project will not affect or obstruct any roads, bridges or Elk River. It is scheduled to be completed by October 15 in time to avoid any disruption of trout season. By United States Fish and Wildlife Service laws, no disruption of trout waters can be made from October 15 until April 15 of the following year.
In remarks to High Country Press, Banner Elk Town Manager Rick Owen said the Mill Pond dredging is a most significant project for the college and town.
“Myself, our mayor (Brenda Lyerly), town council members (David Lecka, Mike Dunn, Charlie B. Von Canon, Allen Bolick and Robert Tufts) and residents are excited about the Mill Pond dredging work,” he said. “This project displays Lees-McRae’s total commitment to ecological interests, as well as to maintaining an area so important to the character and rich history of our college and community. We are very appreciative to the college for undertaking it. Lee’s McRae College is such an asset to our town and area.”