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Dam Good Solution: NC City Flourishes with Growth of Water Sports

Rockingham now has a 14-mile blue trail through the city that draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the state and country. (City of Rockingham)
Rockingham now has a 14-mile blue trail through the city that draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the state and country. (City of Rockingham)
February 12, 2018

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — North Carolina has a dam problem after centuries of water-power use by textile mills - many of which are now retired.

At least one city - Rockingham - is removing dams from its waterways and reaping the rewards. Leaders are set to take out another dam just north of the city, eight years after the removal of a dam on Hitchcock Creek ignited the growth of a recreation industry.

The city is working with Resource Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit that connects water-quality needs with available public funds. Peter Raabe, North Carolina conservation director with American Rivers, said through funding and project guidance, the creek is now the source of recreation and a burgeoning economy.

"What we were really wanting to accomplish with that project was [to] begin the restoration of that ecosystem,” Raabe said. “The Hitchcock Creek has been a really impacted stream that powered a lot of industrial work in the city of Rockingham, but all those industries no longer needed that power."

The removal of the dam in 2010 allowed Rockingham to work with American Rivers to create a 14-mile blue trail from Ledbetter Lake to the Pee Dee River. Blue trails are like hiking trails on the water, and now the city says they have witnessed a growth of outdoor recreation and related businesses.

Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said the change in the city is noticeable, even if you're not on the water.

"We've had to get used to seeing folks pulling trailers and canoes and kayaks on the back of their trucks and on trailers and on top of their cars,” Crump said. “That's really become commonplace, when that was not the case prior to the removal of the dam."

Raabe said aside from the impact on fish and recreation, the unused dams across the state also present a danger to communities during periods of heavy rain.

"You have the liability impact for the owner of the dam but also the community around the dam,” Raabe said. “If the dam is not well maintained and there's huge rains like what we've had over the past couple of years, if you have a poorly maintained dam and you get that type of water, you have the potential for breaching."

He added there are also incidences where people swimming near the dams are hurt or even die because of the unpredictable water flow and hazards involved.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC