New designated wildlife conservation area on the French Broad River at Mills River
The lands along the French Broad River at Mills River are now a state wildlife conservation area and are slated for natural floodplain restoration.
In November, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission opened the 87-acre property known as King’s Bridge to the public for fishing, birding and other wildlife viewing, according to a press release from Conserving Carolina. .
The property is a designated safety zone and hunting is not permitted.
“This plot is a new and unique opportunity for our agency to take what is practically a virgin slate and create high quality wildlife habitat that will benefit both terrestrial and aquatic species,” said Nick Shaver, Highlands Supervisor of the Wildlife Commission’s Land. and Water Access Division.
A small parking area is located on the east side of the NC 191 freeway south of the bridge. There are no trails or infrastructure on the property. Future plans include public access to boats following the widening of the portion of NC Route 191 in the region.
Restoration of the floodplain will return the conservation area to a more natural state with wetlands that will restore the natural flow of water between the land and the river, according to the liberation states. The plans include a backwater swamp where fish and other aquatic life can rest and spawn outside of the strong currents of the river.
The land will also be upgraded to give it a more natural shape with a large, low basin that can fill up during flooding. The restored wetlands will be home to many types of wildlife, including salamanders, turtles, birds and mammals.
The restored floodplain will help filter water and improve water quality. It will also allow the floodplain to perform its function of absorbing stormwater and reducing the severity of downstream flooding. Bank erosion and sediment pollution will be reduced since the downstream flow will be less intense.
The Wildlife Commission predicts that it will take several years to complete the restoration. In December 2020, Conserving Carolina purchased the property from Super-Sod, which operated a sod farm on the property. Ownership transferred to the Wildlife Commission in the summer of 2021.
King’s Bridge is located two miles upstream of the Conserving Carolina’s Mouth of Mud Creek restoration site and 12 miles downstream of the organization’s Pleasant Grove site. Restoring all three sites will increase benefits for the community and have a greater reach, according to David Lee, director of Conserving Carolina Natural Resources.
“Together, the floodplain conservation and restoration projects along the French Broad River will dramatically improve water quality, provide critical habitat for important aquatic and terrestrial species, and contribute to the overall resilience of the river corridor. Said Lee.
Funding to purchase the Kings Bridge property came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback. Private investors Mary Fanslow, Randy Hall and Annie Keck-Hall, Tom and Susan McHugh, Fred and Lauren Weed, and Dale Weiler and Loti Woods also played a key role in providing loans to Conserving Carolina until a permanent funding is secured.
“This project has been a great opportunity to advance our company’s culture and commitment to conservation and sustainability,” said Ben Copeland Jr., CEO of Super-Sod.
“This is our fourth project with Conserving Carolina, among many others in which we have been involved in three states. Conservation organizations like Conserving Carolina provide flexibility for our commitment to reserve land for future generations through cash donations, partial value contributions, conservation easements or fee simple contributions.