Dam project moves forward

Fetch your rod and reel. Dust off the canoe.

Within the next several months, a Raleigh company will tear down Lowell Mill dam on the Little River and turn a half-mile section of the waterway into a county park. The free low of water will bring back migratory fish – shad, herring, sturgeon and striped bass – and open up 88 square miles of new fishing territory.

On Monday, County Commissioners accepted an offer of 17 acres of land along the river and an endowment of $140,000 to maintain the property as a park.

The park will be developed by Restoration Systems, a company that restores natural areas as mitigation credits, then sells them to agencies that disrupt wetlands, streams or forest buffers.

George Howard, a partner at Restoration Systems, said work on the land would likely start in April.

A rope-and-post fence would be erected across the length of the park to create a boundary with the adjoining private property. A gravel parking lot, interpretive signs and picnic tables would be added. The work would also include some general cleaning up.

Howard said the dam would come down in the fall when temperatures cool off. “We don’t want hot, still water running down the river,” he added.

After a long discussion with designers from Skilled Fencing, Howard said that Restoration Systems has a contract to buy 17 acres from the J.F. Scott family. And he said that the land on the north side of the river, which doesn’t have a road access, joins a large tract of land already under a conservation easement.

Commissioner Ray Woodall said the county needed to move forward with the deal. The company first pitched its proposal in November.

Howard said the company would transfer ownership once the park was complete. And it would also give the county the endowment in one payment, rather than in two as earlier proposed.

The dam, built in 1810 to power a gristmill, has been a popular fishing and swimming hole. But during the past 15 years, three people have drowned – one as recently as 2000.