North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

May 1, 2015 | Rhett Register


Posted May 1, 2015

In preparation for an article I am writing about her work, I recently joined Barbara Doll on a walk along Rocky Branch, a creek that winds through NC State University campus.

For the past 13 years, Barbara, who is North Carolina Sea Grant water protection and restoration specialist and faculty in NC State University’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, has led a multimillion dollar, multiphased project to restore this urban stream.

Barbara Doll next to Rocky Branch Creek.

Pointing to sand at the roots of floodplain plants, Barbara Doll shows how healthy streams help remove sediment — a major pollutant. Photo by Rhett Register

Wedged between a growing university and one of Raleigh’s main thoroughfares, it’s a surprising location for wilderness. In places, the stream — overhung with willow and bay planted 13 years prior — coils into black pools burbling with aquatic creatures. Signs of beaver and deer can be seen on the banks. Birds call in the canopy.

Barbara was showing Chris Hayes, program officer from the National Sea Grant Office, the scope of the 1.1-mile stream restoration project. Gloria Putnam, Sea Grant coastal resources and communities specialist, joined us as well.

As we walked, Doll pointed out the tools of a restorer’s trade: shoals of pebbles — called riffles — that ripple the water to add oxygen, rocky weirs and falls, vegetated banks, and massive, grotto-like culverts. Doll has been instrumental in the growth of the young science of stream restoration, and techniques she has helped refine are used around the world.

engineered waterfall

Engineered waterfalls provide habitat and help to oxygenate the water. Photo by Rhett Register

Besides being a hidden gem on NC State’s campus and a success story for stream restoration, Rocky Branch has a history. The day after our walk, Doll forwarded a message she received on April 17 from her neighbor, local historian Matthew Brown.

150 YEARS AGO TODAY, Sherman’s Union army has been camped out all around the small town of Raleigh for four days, eating what few chickens and pigs the retreating Confederates left. The Fourteenth Corps is camped on Dix Hill, around the Insane Asylum. The inmates are rejoicing, believing they will be set free. It has been a peaceful occupation; General Sherman has set guards around the City to protect the citizenry. He puts Generals Cox and Logan in charge of Raleigh and heads to Durham, to meet with Confederate General Johnston regarding terms of a cease-fire. As Sherman prepares to board the train to Durham, he receives a telegraph that President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15. Sherman swears everyone to secrecy and heads out. But the news is spreading to his troops around Raleigh. The troops loved Father Abraham, and they are looking for revenge. Rumors fly that the Union army will burn the City. As night falls, a portion of General Logan’s troops, along with stragglers from other commands, begin a march on Raleigh, torches in hand. General Logan himself meets the troops at Rocky Branch, on the edge of town, and orders them back to their camps. They keep marching. Logan tells them if they do not return to camp, he will order the artillery to fire into them with canister. They can see the artillery; they turn around. General Logan thus saves Raleigh from destruction!

If you are in Raleigh, I heartily encourage you to take a stroll — or a jog, or a bike ride — along Rocky Branch. You might encounter a kingfisher defending its perch, or a fox skulking through the undergrowth.

You will definitely see people enjoying this piece of nature winding through the middle of urban Raleigh.

And, who knows, in the green light coming down through the trees next to a black brook that has been restored to how it may have looked 150 years ago, you might be able to imagine a time when would-be attackers stood on its banks, prevented from carrying out a final act of violence at the end of the Civil War.

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