Sper­ryville, Huntly stream cross­ings to al­low eas­ier pas­sage for fish, peo­ple

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT • NATURE - By John Mccaslin Rappahanno­ck News staff

The Pied­mont En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil and Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion are col­lab­o­rat­ing to re­con­nect brook trout habi­tat and im­prove flood re­siliency and pub­lic road-stream cross­ings in two more lo­ca­tions in Rappahanno­ck County.

Last month, the PEC re­ceived a $199,057 grant from the Na­tional Fish and Wildlife Foun­da­tion Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Stew­ard­ship Fund to part­ner with VDOT on two pi­lot fish pas­sage and flood re­siliency projects near Sper­ryville and Ch­ester Gap.

The projects will re­place cul­verts with open-span struc­tures at cross­ings over two head­wa­ter streams at Piney River (Route 653/Sy­camore Ridge Rd. near Sper­ryville) and Bolton Branch (Route 631/Mill Hill Rd. near Huntly).

“Both streams are clas­si­fied Class II Wild Trout Streams by Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Game and In­land Fish­eries (DGIF) and have in­tact yet frag­mented brook trout pop­u­la­tions,” notes Claire Catlett, Rappahanno­ck Field Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the PEC.

Head­wa­ter streams in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains form rare in­tact habi­tat for the Amer­i­can eel and Eastern Brook Trout, Vir­ginia’s state fish, ac­cord­ing to Paula Combs, the PEC’s Se­nior Ed­i­tor.

How­ever, a 2014 sur­vey by PEC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice found re­stric­tive cul­verts to be a key lim­it­ing fac­tor in restor­ing Eastern Brook Trout pop­u­la­tions in this county and else­where in the Pied­mont.

Re­stric­tive cul­verts are also much more vul­ner­a­ble to in­tense storms, caus­ing road clo­sures, prop­erty dam­age and flood­ing. By open­ing the streambed to its nat­u­ral width, the new open-span struc­tures will be much more re­silient in the face of in­tense weather events, im­prov­ing safety for trav­el­ers and sav­ing tax­pay­ers money.

Catlett says the projects in Sper­ryville and Ch­ester Gap will take place this year.

A lit­tle over a year ago, the PEC cel­e­brated the com­ple­tion of the Spru­cepine Branch restora­tion project, also near Huntly, with part­ners and lo­cal res­i­dents. That ef­fort was one of the first of its kind in Vir­ginia’s Pied­mont.

“I re­ally ap­plaud the Pied­mont En­vi­ron­men­tal Coun­cil’s lead­er­ship and vi­sion in work­ing with other part­ners and pri­vate landown­ers to re­store crit­i­cal na­tive brook trout habi­tat. PEC has been a plea­sure to work with in ev­ery way, and this has been a great project,” said Jim Northup, a neigh­bor of Spru­cepine Branch who is the for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent of Shenan­doah Na­tional Park.

The work at Spru­cepine Branch re­con­nected two miles of stream habi­tat, as a set of cul­verts were re­moved from a pri­vate drive­way and re­placed with a bridge. The project in­cluded nat­u­ral chan­nel de­sign and con­struc­tion, which was com­pleted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and Shenan­doah Stream­works. The work in­cluded re-grad­ing stream banks and in-stream struc­tures that re­stored the nat­u­ral hy­drol­ogy of those streams.

Ac­cord­ing to the state fish and game depart­ment, over 400 streams or por­tions of streams in Vir­ginia con­tain brook trout. Many of the streams and ponds in ad­ja­cent Shenan­doah Na­tional Park and nearby Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and Jef­fer­son Na­tional Forests have “na­tive” brook trout.

“VDOT be­lieves col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal part­ners like PEC will im­prove re­siliency and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and es­tab­lish a model that can be repli­cated through- out Vir­ginia,” says Gar­rett Moore, chief en­gi­neer of VDOT.

The DGIF will also be work­ing with VDOT, PEC and other part­ners to de­velop a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship that will cre­ate a strat­egy for stream restora­tion and aquatic or­gan­ism pas­sage here and be­yond.

“We are ex­cited to work with VDOT on this ini­tia­tive, cre­at­ing more re­silient road cross­ings, re­duc­ing flood dam­age and open­ing miles of stream pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­si­ble to fish,” says Catlett.

COUR­TESY PHO­TOS

First of its kind work at Spru­cepine Branch near Huntly last year re­con­nected two miles of trout stream habi­tat, as a set of cul­verts (left) were re­moved from a pri­vate drive­way and re­placed with a bridge.

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