Daily Dirt: Wagons East, Birthplace of Rivers, and the Dam Fish Comeback

Your daily outdoor news bulletin for July 22, the day Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean, became the first Euro-American to cross the continent north of Mexico, a decade before Lewis and Clark and with no financial backing:

Birthplace of Rivers National Monument Proposed

It’s known colloquially as the Birthplace of Rivers, but it could soon have an official designation from the official source of designations: the United States Government. There is currently a push to create West Virginia’s first national monument from land in Monongahela National Forest that makes up the headwaters of the Cranberry, Williams, Cherry, Greenbrier, Gauley and Elk rivers. If you are a paddler or fly fisherman, these names should be familiar to you. The plan calls for 123,000 acres in and around the Cranberry Wilderness to be designated the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument and be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. National Monument status would give the area more flexibility in regards to uses like mountain biking, trout stocking, stream restoration and forest restoration, most of which is prohibited by the current definition of “Wilderness,” while also allowing rules to limit fossil fuel extraction. The plan is supported by the big hitters in W.V. including Trout Unlimited, International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition.

The Dam Fish Making a Comeback?

The removal of two dams along the Chattahoochee River along the border of Georgia and Alabama has been a big deal in the South. The dam removal combined with the creation of the Whitewater Columbus – the longest whitewater rafting course in the U.S. – has brought world class paddling, and everything that goes with it to the area. What goes with it is an economic boost desperately needed in a part of the country that has seen hard times. The new stretch of river is estimated to bring at least 700 jobs, thousands of tourists, and up to $42 million annually. With the creation of a new riverwalk and a general embrace of the riverfront, the project could be the beginning of a wholesale change in the attitude of residents toward conservation. We have seen this model work in the South, most notably in Chattanooga, TN and on a smaller scale in Roanoke, VA.

This is all good, but one of the lesser known benefits of the dam removal is the restoration of spawning habitat for Alabama Shad and striped bass, both great gamefish, and the results are already being seen as fish populations are increasing at the sites of the 175-year-old dams. This is no surprise as I’m sure the fish were eager to get upstream after nearly 200 years of being blocked off.

Wagons East

It seems as though the Great Western Migration is making a reverse pilgrimage back to the East in recent years, and the trend continues as a Colorado based outdoor company is planning to put down roots in Asheville. First it was Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium brewing companies opening major beer plants in the Asheville area, and now Boulder, CO, based Sport Hansa is planning on relocating their entire operation to the area. Sport Hansa specializes in importing and distributing European brands including Helle Knives (Norway), Kupilka camping dishware (Finland), Wetterlings axes (Sweden), and Montane outerwear and Terra Nova tenst (both of England). Sport Hansa should slip in nicely with the rapidly expanding outdoor retail and manufacturing sector that has taken hold in Buncombe County over the past decade, and could bring as many as 10 new jobs to the region.

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