Improvement project for North Toe River begins

from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service:

A recent paddle down the North Toe River provided biologists and local residents with a first-hand look at the river and helped mark the start of an intense, three-year effort to improve the stream’s health.

The effort, called the North Toe River Restoration Project, is coordinated by the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council and aims to identify sources of water quality problems and work with partners and the community to address those problems. The $1.2 million project is funded by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as matching contributions from Quartz Corporation and Unimin.

“This is great news for the health of the river,” said Ed Williams, a biologist with the N.C. Division of Water Quality. The North Toe River, which feeds into the Nolichucky River, has a history of polluted water and is now on North Carolina’s list of impaired waters due to high levels of turbidity, a measure of the muddiness of the water. However, the river has seen a recent trend toward improved water quality, and this project should expand those gains, helping nascent fishing and boating industries that are growing segments of the local economy. The project should also benefit the Appalachian elktoe, and endangered mussel whose well-being is tied to river health.

This project is the result of the efforts of many partners who have come together to improve the health of the river over the past two years. Meetings with area stakeholders were held to listen to their concerns and interests, and to bring them all together at the same table. A partnership was formed among local organizations, local businesses, and state and federal agencies to develop a plan to focus on the river’s health.

To oversee the project, biologist Jonathan Hartsell has been hired as the watershed coordinator. Hartsell, who lives in Burnsville with his wife and two children, is excited about the opportunity. “I’m lucky to work in my own watershed with people who want to improve the river for future generations,” said Hartsell.

Project partners will continue to meet with the community and listen to their concerns. “The streams of the Toe and Cane River Valleys have come so far in the past 30 years. We want to be sure they continue improving, and to do that, we want to see a partnership that engages all aspects of the community,” said Mitchell County resident and Toe River Valley Watch President Starli McDowell.


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