A pair of dams in western North Carolina are slated to be removed. One dam sits on the Toe River, outside of Spruce Pine in Mitchell County, N.C., while the other sits on the Cane River, upstream from Yancey County’s Mountain Heritage High School. The Cane and Toe Rivers join to form the Nolichucky River, which flows west into Tennessee.

“These dams serve no purpose. They’re a safety hazard and an impediment to fish movement,” said Cliff Vinson, coordinator of the Blue Ridge RC&D Council, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Both dams were constructed for power generation, though it has been decades since either produced electricity. Today, they’ve been breached by their respective rivers and all that remain are massive slabs of concrete, impeding natural water flow. It’s been so long since either dam served a purpose no one can find records showing who they belong to.

The dams impede the up and downstream movement of fish and other aquatic life, splitting populations, leaving each portion diminished in size and genetically isolated, making them more susceptible to impacts such as disease or poor water quality.

It was at the Toe River dam, outside Spruce Pine, that a local resident died in a paddling accident when he was caught in a hydraulic immediately downstream of the dam. This dam’s removal will help clear the way for the Toe River Trail – a proposed paddling trail spearheaded by Toe River Valley Watch.

“I think momentum is building to protect and improve these rivers, and
we’re glad we could be a part of that,” said Starli Phillips McDowell, president of Toe River Valley Watch.

Currently, a pair of consulting firms are studying options for getting the dams out and restoring the stream channels. It’ll be a slow and deliberate process as slabs of concrete are removed piecemeal and the stream channel is stabilized to prevent it from eroding.

More info: toerivervalleywatch.org.