North Toe River freed of crumbling dam

A decrepit dam is being torn down along the North Toe River near Spruce Pine this week, clearing the way for a restoration of natural aquatic habitat.

The dam demolition removes a barrier to river migration of aquatic species, obstructions have led to a decline in some species, including rare and endangered ones.

“The North Toe is a wonderful river and taking this useless dam out makes it better,” remarked Cliff Vinson, the coordinator for the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council, which is organizing the effort.

The cost of removal is $202,500 provided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Division of Water Resources.

The dam was constructed for power generation in 1918, providing electricity to the town of Spruce Pine and a local factory. It was abandoned by the late 1940s or early 1950s, then partially dynamited in 1960 to clear silt which had accumulated upstream. What remains are massive slabs of concrete and scattered pieces of the dam’s metal inner workings.

“It’s not very often a dam comes out of a river,” remarked Anita Goetz, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The dam removal will also make the river safer for paddlers. The partially crumbled dam creates a powerful hydraulic that claimed a boater’s life in 1983. Boaters that portage around the structure have to skirt an active railroad along the shore.

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