Restoring rivers in Southwest Virginia

On an unseasonably chilly day in March, a team assembled from our offices across the Northeast and Southeast began taking down a decrepit dam that for years blocked the Middle Fork of the Holstom River. It would take four days to break apart the dam and extract the rubble. But by the end of the week, the river would be moving free again.

The excavator pictured next to the dam. As you can see, the dam had already been breached. Credit: Tom Barnes / USFWS

The excavator pictured next to the dam. As you can see, the dam had already been breached. Credit: Tom Barnes / USFWS

The dam was built in 1911 alongside an ice factory that shuttered more than forty years ago. In recent years, it’d become a public nuisance. By working with the local landowner and the town of Marion, the Service removed both the cinderblock factory structure as well as the dam.

For this project, we relied on the expertise of the Management Assistance Team–a highly efficient six-person Service team on retainer for projects across the nation. It’s one of the many ways that we are increasing our efficiency and saving resources.

By removing this dam, we anticipate the riverbed to return to its former, natural state. Aquatic species will then be able to move farther upstream, including fish like the endangered slender chub and yellowfin madtom. Freshwater mussels, traveling upstream with their fish hosts, will also be able to move back into the newly restored aquatic habitat.

Removing the dam also opens up the river for people, too. Now, people that live near the river can recreate throughout the newly restored waterway, fishing and boating without having to worry about a damaged structure blocking the river.

Throughout the Upper Tennessee River basin, waterways have been polluted by industry or blocked by dams and or other structures. By restoring this and other rivers, our agency hopes to improve the ecosystem of the entire area.

2 Comments on “Restoring rivers in Southwest Virginia

  1. Thank you Tom! You did an amazing job covering this project for us and we hope you enjoyed beautiful Southwest Virginia!!

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