/ Restoring Wild Places,

Where Nature is Making a Comeback

Whitesides family by restored stream. Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.

The Whitesides family once lived in an overcrowded home where they didn’t feel safe raising their child. Alex and Talyah worked hard to fix up the house and keep it clean, but there was so much that was out of their control—from violent outbursts to unsafe wiring. Their young son, August, couldn’t play in the yard because of all the beer cans, cigarettes, and trash.  

Then, the Whitesides had an opportunity to become homeowners. They helped build their own home in Habitat for Humanity’s Dodd Meadows community, in East Flat Rock, working with Habitat volunteers and staff. Now, they have their own yard. Plus, the community has a playground and green space beside a stream.   

But the stream was degraded—not an inviting place for families. When Habitat started to build Dodd Meadows, the stream been straightened into an ugly ditch with eroding banks. It was full of trash. And the surrounding land was so choked with invasive species that you could barely see the creek. That’s a pretty big mess to clean up. Still, Habitat wanted a healthy green space where families could take a walk and kids could watch tadpoles or chase fireflies. 

So, Habitat reached out to Conserving Carolina and we partnered with them to restore the land and water. Together, we recreated a natural, curving streambed. We cleared out invasive species and put in native plants. We also built a gravel walking path. This fall, bright wildflowers were blooming and you could see butterflies, grasshoppers, and frogs in the meadow. We plan to plant hundreds more trees, so that as August grows up, he will see what used to be a scraggly wasteland around the creek turn into a patch of green woods. 

We also collaborated with Habitat to restore their community garden and we’re hosting programs to engage families with the outdoors. “We are making future environmentalists out of these kids,” says Linda Saturno, president of Henderson County Habitat for Humanity. 

Thanks to you, hopeful stories like this are happening at more and more places in our region. This year, Conserving Carolina completed three restoration projects and we have eight more in the works! 

Conserving Carolina Restoration Projects Along the French Broad River

Map of Conserving Carolina restoration projects along the French Broad River
This map shows restoration projects that are completed or in progress.

On one farm, we worked with the landowner to fix two badly eroding streams that were dumping more than 20 tons of sediment into the French Broad River every year. During storms, one of these streams used to be a steep chute of muddy water. Now, with berms to slow the flow, it has a new shape—a series of calm pools that provide ideal habitat for wildlife. And the water that runs into the French Broad is clean. 

Our largest restoration project this year was Pleasant Grove in Etowah, on 70 acres along the French Broad. Here, on an abandoned golf course, you helped us bring back a natural floodplain with: 

  • Over a mile of restored streams 
  • 22 acres of wetlands 
  • 13 acres of wildflower meadows 
  • 29 reforested acres 
  • A 7-acre backwater slough 

At Pleasant Grove, we breached levees so the river has a place to overflow and we plugged ditches so that water moves through wetlands instead of rushing straight into the river. This is how a natural floodplain is supposed to work—letting water spill over and soak into the land. This natural process reduces the severity of both floods and droughts, keeping us safer as the climate changes. Natural floodplains also filter our water. And they provide vital habitat for wildlife like birds, turtles, fish, and so much more!  

Pleasant Grove restoration aerial
This aerial photo was taken in May, shortly after completion of the earth-moving and replanting phase of restoration at Pleasant Grove. Courtesy of Jennings Environmental.

We appreciate the skill and hard work of Jennings Environmental, North State Environmental, Baker Grading & Landscaping, and Stone and Spade, who carried out these projects. We are also grateful for funding and support from NC Land and Water Fund, NC Department of Public Safety, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Only a few years ago, our Mouth of Mud Creek project was the first floodplain restoration of its kind in the mountains of North Carolina. Now, there is so much momentum for bringing back a thriving natural corridor along the French Broad River! We have plans for future trails at both Pleasant Grove and Mud Creek, so that you can see for yourself these places where nature is making a comeback. 


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