CH@T: Rocky River Heritage Foundation’s volunteers conduct clean-up effort

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Environmental and volunteer organizations routinely devote hundreds of hours every month to keep lakes and rivers in North Carolina as pristine as possible. This week, we speak with Pamela Hawe, a member of the Rocky River Heritage Foundation; foundation members and other river organizations recently completed Chatham’s first “Creek Week” program, working to clean a portion of the Rocky River. Hawe serves as vice president of the foundation and has been affiliated with the group since 2008. She and RRFH President Phillip Cox work with the state of North Carolina and other groups to coordinate Creek Week.

Was this the “first” Creek Week in Chatham County?

Yes, for both Chatham County and Lee County. There has been opportunity in the past for us to participate in the statewide event, but this has been the first time it has been attempted for both. Since we share the Deep River, it seemed like a good chance to do something together. That is why we are proud for the interest and great ideas offered. Next year it will be bigger, hopefully including more sites and rivers. We have plans to go through the lessons learned and expand on this year’s wonderful events.

What was the focus of the week?

Creek Week took place in Chatham and Lee counties from June 19-26, allowing residents to explore the natural resources of our local rivers and creeks. The celebration included daily river-oriented activities for public participation.

Starting on June 19, several events kicked off the week. RRHF volunteers conducted a clean-up project along the upper Rocky River, which yielded 12 bags of garbage, tires, refrigerator, and a prayer. The Deep River Park Association also did a clean-up on the Deep River at Camelback Bridge, filling several bags of trash removed from the banks. Afterwards, volunteers were treated to bluegrass music by the Hill Boys while munching on well-earned hot-dogs.

In addition to cleaning the river areas, there was opportunity — under expert guidance — to get into the water and observe the wildlife first hand. Brena Jones from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission thrilled a group of enthusiasts by finding the ever-elusive Notropis mekistocholas, better known as the Cape Fear Shiner. She explained the work that is going into the protection and recovery of this endangered fish. A variety of other native fish were netted and observed, but the highlight was an unusually marked leech specimen, complete with babies!

And Matt Jones with the N.C. State Co-op Extension gave an informative Zoom lecture to a very interested audience about the best plant life to use for the local rivers.

When the work was done, did the volunteers get a chance to learn more about the river and the area?

Yes. Many participants came for the stories. Several events gave insight into the history of the Deep River, as told by our local and gifted story tellers. Starting after the clean-up Mike Parker entertained with one about a favorite cryptid here in Chatham County, Bigfoot. Cole Wicker, a Duke graduate student researching Central North Carolina’s coal mining heritage, shared his family history in the Cumnock settlement. Finally, Jimmy Haire, who knows all there is to know about Sanford and Lee County history, kept the audience spell-bound with tales from around the county.

There was even a chance for individuals to creatively express the river’s beauty. Aspiring artists where coached on how to capture the water lily adornments in a masterpiece of acrylic painting by retired art teacher Donna Strickland.

Lastly, for the adventurous, paddling opportunities were offered on the Rocky and Deep. Those wanting a closer look at the rivers and wildlife were provided capable equipment and instruction by the RRHF, Cape Fear River Adventures and Endor Paddle groups. There was a good response to this function indicating residents want to see, and be, more connected to our natural resources.

All in all, more than 130 people participated in the celebration of Chatham and Lee County rivers and creeks during the inaugural Creek Week. Support was given by local businesses, organizations and individuals who appreciate the importance and benefits of maintaining our life-giving waters.


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