If you’ve been driving on Warren Wilson Road or Riceville Road in Swannanoa, you may have seen evidence of the major stream restoration project currently underway on the college’s 1,100 acre campus. The project involves restoring 11,455 linear feet of streams to their natural meanders, removing invasive species, creating riparian buffers, and planting about 25,000 trees, including edibles such as pawpaw and persimmon.
The restoration project will address problems created in the 1920s, when many of the streams and creeks meandering through the college’s farm fields were channelized, tiled and put underground for agricultural purposes – a common practice at the time. “Right now, what happens when you get these rains, it’s just a straight pipe of sediment going down into the river,” Dean of Land Resources Dr. Dave Ellum said. “By putting in meanders, some berms, and planting trees, we’ll be able to settle out some of that sediment again.”
According to an article posted on the college’s website, the project will help improve water quality in the Swannanoa River, reduce sediment load, diversify and improve wildlife habitat, improve the farm infrastructure and increase the aesthetics of the campus.
Warren Wilson College has placed conservation easements on the affected lands to protect them as stream buffers once the project is complete. Research will still be allowed in those areas. Ellum said the project provides many educational opportunities for students, both while the project is happening and after it is complete. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.