Flowing by stands of montane longleaf pine on its way to Corley Lake in Paulding County, Pegamore Creek is a major tributary of Raccoon Creek, whose watershed is home to 43 native fishes—13 of which are endemic to the Mobile Basin—including the federally endangered Etowah darter. As these rare fish attempt to move through the swift waters in search of habitat, food and spawning grounds, obstacles such as undersized and perched culverts (pipes that allow water to flow under roadways) make reaching their destination difficult, if not impossible.
Re-thinking these obstacles and developing innovative solutions to improve fish passage while enhancing public safety are driving our restoration efforts in this part of Georgia near Dallas, only an hour north of Atlanta. That’s why we recently removed culverts in Pegamore Creek and replaced them with a free-span bridge: to improve access to Sheffield Wildlife Management Area, reduce flooding risk for residents and improve habitat for rare fish. Check out how it was done below!
Unable to Move
The Nature Conservancy assessed the fish-friendliness of the many road-stream crossings in the Raccoon Creek watershed. Paved over with concrete, these six culverts located on Lee Road along Pegamore Creek quickly became a priority for removal. Perched 18 inches above the waterline, the crossing prevented fish like the federally endangered Etowah darter and threatened Cherokee darter from moving to vital habitat upstream.
When it Rains, it Pours
Even during small rain events, frequent flooding plagued this section of Lee Road, which also serves as the only public access to the Sheffield Wildlife Management Area.
The Road Less Travelled
After obtaining a permanent right-of-way from the landowner, we worked to re-route Lee Road to where the new bridge would be installed. Doing so improved road conditions and made for straighter, safer travel lanes.
Bridging the Gap
With the road and footings in place, it was time to install the bridge spans. This new bridge spans 32 feet across, allowing Pegamore Creek to flow freely beneath it.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
While the bridge spans were placed, the old road and culverts were demolished and removed, thanks to a major collaboration between the State of Georgia, Paulding County, local landowners and The Nature Conservancy.
Finding the Flow
With the old culverts removed, the creek began to flow, reconnecting for the first time in nearly three decades.
The new bridge provides the only public access to Sheffield Wildlife Management Area, which boasts over 3,000 acres to hike, paddle and explore.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, NEW Fish!
The Conservancy’s Coosa River Program Director Katie Owens found an Etowah darter while sampling upstream from the removed culverts – the first time the rare fish has been documented in these waters in over 30 years.
A Fish Tale
A member of the perch family and endemic to Georgia, the Etowah darter is found only in the Etowah River watershed and its tributaries. At just under 3 inches long, this little fish relies upon swift-moving water and gravelly creek beds to survive. Erosion, development and poorly planned road-stream crossings have pushed the species to the brink, making restoration efforts like the Pegamore Creek Bridge Project all the more critical. Now fish can move up Pegamore Creek into Raccoon Creek to access refuge areas during high-flow water events, food sources and spawning grounds.
Two Fins Up
The bridge is in place, the culverts are gone, and Daphne the Darter is one happy fish!