Folks up in Danville, Virginia, are puzzling over what to do with an old mill dam on the Dan River downtown.
As more and more folks come to the Long Mill Dam to play and fish, the Danville mayor is calling on the city council there to do something before someone gets hurt. A new city park, new YMCA and other development is drawing more people than ever to the dam, the mayor told the “Danville Register & Bee” newspaper.
In similar fashion, here in the hometown more and more folks are coming to the Old Shoe Factory Dam on Big Elkin Creek. A nice nature trail, part of the developing E&A Rail Trail, opened in 2014. It leads people past the dam that had been almost inaccessible.
The trail’s popular, as far as I can tell, as I always see people walking or bicycling when I’m on it.
Then earlier this year they added convenient steps from the trail down a steep slope to the foot of the dam. So now kids, young and old, can easily step down and play on the rocks and in the water. And at the dam.
But will people stay off the potentially dangerous concrete slide?
Some Danville folks are worried about a five-foot-high dam there. The Shoe Factory Dam is more than double the height.
Although there is a “Danger” sign at the Elkin dam, you know how that goes. For instance, there’s also a sign at the 200-foot-high Stone Mountain Falls at the state park. But I’ve seen kids playing on it nonetheless.
A second dam on the Big Elkin, the Library Dam, is next to downtown and has been most accessible over the years. But I’ve never heard of any problems with it. In fact, I’ve never seen anybody at that dam, except people peacefully and safely fishing above it.
But then, again, there are no steps inviting people to step down to the foot of the downtown dam.
There’s another wrinkle to this story. Some in Danville want the dam there torn down to restore the river to its natural condition.
The Big Elkin sits still, quiet and stagnant behind the dams as water pools. That’s not how the Big Elkin is supposed to flow.
The Rail Trail, however, shows different, active segments of the creek away from the dams, with water soothingly flowing over rocks, clean and clear except when rain runoff turns the creek a muddy brown. That’s the natural state of the mountain stream with headwaters on the Blue Ridge escarpment at Doughton.
Remove the two dams that have long fallen into disuse and the Big Elkin as it approaches the town would again flow free as nature intended.
For instance, when the old Duke Power Co. tore down a power-plant dam on the Big Elkin to the north at Carter Falls some decades ago, a pool there turned free-flowing and picturesque.
But some people see beauty in water flowing down the face of the dams, both here and in Danville. Thus the dilemma facing the Danville City Council, which is torn between competing camps there.
The council could not reach a decision last Tuesday night and did not act on a proposal to tear down their dam. By the way, the cost of removing that dam is $57,000.
So do we need our dams? Should we tear them down? If someone gets hurt, or if nature-minded folks demand them gone, the Danville Dilemma could flow all the way here.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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