By Jesse Wood
Jan. 14, 2015. The restoration of 3,000 linear feet of Hardin Creek, which runs beside Watauga High School and a portion of the Greenway Trail, is being proposed.
Laura England, a lecturer in the ASU Departments of Sustainable Development and Biology, spoke about the potential project on Monday to the Watauga County Board of Education, one of the stakeholders in the project, and soon the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners will hear similar presentations.
She said that the restoration project will improve the health of Hardin Creek and the environment downstream; will transform the stream into a “living classroom;” and provide a meaningful community partnership because of the multiple agencies involved.
Hardin Creek adjoins the Watauga High School property that the county owns, and the Town of Boone holds easements along the Greenway Trail. Project leaders want to ensure they have the “blessings” of these governmental stakeholders before proceeding to secure funding for the project.
Other participants in the project, so far, have been Mountain Alliance, New River Conservancy, Watauga County Cooperative Extension; Appalachian State University; and agencies with the county, town and school system.
Hardin Creek, a tributary to the South Fork of the New River that drains an urbanized watershed, is a highly unstable habitat with a poor aquatic community, according to England, who said communities of fish and bugs are currently nonexistent in the creek. In addition, the erosion of the banks of Hardin Creek sends unhealthy sediment into the New River after it rains.
Components of the project include stream channel stability – which consists of sloping back the banks of the stream, reconnecting the stream with its floodplain, re-meander highly unstable reaches, and plant riparian vegetation along the banks of Hardin Creek – and improve the stormwater management on the campus of Watauga High School.
Plus, this project would improve the educational value of the creek as students and teachers with WHS and Appalachian State University would be able to access the stream more safely during lessons than they have in the past.
England told the school board that an early ballpark figure for the costs of the project are $600,000 to $700,000. Estimated costs for the stormwater management improvements on the high school campus haven’t yet been calculated as more project details are being finalized.
England stressed that the school board, county and town won’t be asked to foot the bill on this project and that several grant programs have been identified: N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, NCDENR-DWR Water Resources Development Program, NCDENR-DWR 319 Program and NFWF Five Star & Urban Waters Restoration Program.
She also noted that the funding would be beneficial to the local economy because a local firm will be selected to perform the restoration work if grant funds are secured.
Once the Boone Town Council and Watauga County Board of Commissioners grant their blessings of the project, project leaders will apply for grants in the 2016 project. England said that the earliest groundbreaking date for the project would be 2017, although projects like this could easily take longer.
Officials with Watauga High School and the Watauga County Cooperative Extension released statements supporting the restoration project:
“We look forward to this partnership, which will provide additional opportunities to enhance and expand our student’s knowledge, perceptions, and personal drives as they become the future leaders and tenders of our local environment,” WHS Assistant Principal Craig Wright said.
“Hardin Creek has incredible potential to provide an outdoor learning environment not only for Watauga High students, but for the community as well. Everyone who lives in Watauga county has a responsibility to care for our creeks, but many don’t know where to begin. Because Hardin Creek flows on county owned property with a town of Boone Greenway Easement, it is imperative that these entities demonstrate what a healthy creek should look like to the community, and right now, Hardin Creek is not the best example. Vegetation is so important to stabilize the creek banks as well as provide shade to keep our creeks cool in hot summer months. A goal of this project is to remove exotic invasive plants that are present on the creek and replace with native species that thrive in moist conditions,” Wendy Patoprsty, Extension Agent for Natural Resources with the Watauga County Cooperative Extension.