With each new stream restoration project, we employ a variety of techniques to bring the stream and its surrounding ecosystem back to health. For the Bacon Ridge Branch Stream Restoration Project, we used a ‘lighter touch’ approach that leveraged on-site materials to create structures that raised the water surface elevation and reconnected the stream to its floodplain.
With these higher water elevations, the stream can once again access the floodplain, spreading out and slowing down storm flows while ‘rehydrating’ the previously drained soils and historic wetlands adjacent to the stream channels. Our nature-based approach to stream restoration greatly reduces the amount of sediment and pollutants delivered to any connected waterways (in the case of Bacon Ridge Branch, the South River). It also provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and native plants.
One stream restoration method is engineered log jam structures. These log jam structures, often called beaver dam analogues (BDAs), provide the area all the natural benefits of a real beaver dam. Like the BDAs we built, beaver dams restore balance to the area’s water table, filter out sediment and pollutants, increase the water surface elevation in the stream and support riparian flora, and create habitats that many species need to thrive.
At Bacon Ridge Branch, some beavers decided to become silent “project partners” with Team GV, building a dam on top of one of our BDAs. We weren’t completely sure at first, as we didn’t spy any beavers ourselves. However, we identified an abundance of chewed sticks and branches of mountain laurel with green leaves—proof that beaver construction crews were afoot.
The added structure of the beaver dam raised the water elevation more than we had initially planned. To prevent extra water spilling over the banks, we have been adaptively managing the site, tempering our original restoration techniques with additional measures. In this case, we installed over 500 live stakes in the bank to add more roughness and root mass. Live stakes are exactly what they sound like: stakes made of living wood which will eventually spread roots and grow. They are a nature-based solution to dissipate flow energy, ensure the bank and floodplain remain stable, and encourage the stream to continue to flow in the main channel.
Unfortunately, a few months after we confirmed the presence of the dam, we discovered it had been blown out by a storm that hit the area. Monitoring visits a few months later evidenced beaver footprints in newly exposed mud banks near the former dam. Fulfilling our hopes, the beavers have returned and the dam has been functioning since, continuing our partnership.
At GreenVest, we’re proud of using nature-based methods and on-site materials in our restoration work. It is encouraging to see a successful restoration celebrated by local wildlife adding their own finishing touches.