Charlotte Observer Dec. 11, 2005

McDowell Creek section to get facelift

Tributary feeds into Mountain Island Lake water-supply reservoir

by BRUCE HENDERSON

HUNTERSVILLE - Plans are under way to restore a section of McDowell
Creek, which feeds a key water-supply reservoir, to its natural beauty.

The public will gain a front-row view from greenway segments that will
be built at the same time. Together, the restoration and greenway are
expected to cost about $3 million.

Rainwater charging off roofs, streets and parking lots has turned the
creek into a deep channel with steep, eroding banks. Sediment washing
downstream has choked out many of its fish and other aquatic creatures,
landing the stream on the N.C. list of impaired waterways.

The McDowell watershed, which is mostly within Huntersville's planning
jurisdiction, is one of the fastest-growing parts of Mecklenburg County.
The creek flows into Mountain Island Lake, the water supply for 800,000
people in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

Rehab work will focus on a 1 1/2-mile reach of the upper creek between
Westmoreland and Sam Furr roads. It's part of a county plan to restore
the McDowell watershed.

Much of the work will be aimed at stopping high water from nibbling away
at the top of the bank, said David Caldwell, a Mecklenburg water-quality
official.

Banks will be rebuilt at a shallower angle, allowing water to spread out
and soak into the floodplain. In some cases, engineers have actually
raised the elevation of the streambed itself to create shallower banks.

Some meanders may also be built into the straight stream channel to slow
the flow of water. Trees and other vegetation will be planted to
stabilize the rebuilt stream banks.

The design and construction work will begin next year and is expected to
take about two years.

The state Ecosystem Enhancement Program, which restores streams and
wetlands to make up for road-construction damage, is expected to pay for
most of the $2 million stream restoration. The agreement hasn't been
formally approved.

The stream restoration dovetails with separate plans by the county parks
department to build a greenway along the same stretch of creek.

"Everything really fell in together real nicely," Caldwell said.

The greenway will be built on the west side of McDowell as the stream is
being restored. A trailhead will go at the Birkdale entrance on Sam
Furr, said greenway planner Jason Pauling, and several other entry
points will be added between there and Westmoreland Road.

At the same time, the department will build a 2.3-mile greenway from
Gilead Road to Beatties Ford Road. The county's 1999 greenway master
plan shows trails eventually running the nearly 10-mile length of McDowell.

The estimated $600,000 to $800,000 cost of the Sam Furr-to-Westmoreland
section will be paid by state grants and the county's 2004 park bonds.
The approximately $1.5 million for the Gilead-to-Beatties Ford section
will come from the park bonds.