Friday, June 27, 2014

Floating the Broad River: Coxe Road to Poors Ford Road

This time of year when the heat becomes oppressive and the every day tasks of the work week become too much to bear, sometimes you just have to take a break and do something fun and relaxing.  Some people choose to go to the pool, some go fishing (I like to fish as long as it's not too hot), others find a nice cool place to just sit down and relax, maybe drink some sweet iced tea.  On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, I decided that I needed a break so I embarked on a float trip on the Broad River.

For years, the Rutherford Outdoor Coalition (ROC)has been advocating the creation of a paddle trail on the Broad River.  The results have yielded improved access at several locations along the river and is helping to bring attention to a very safe and navigable river that has something to offer for boaters and anglers alike.

Being a native Rutherford Countian, I have always been enamored with the Broad River and have worked many years to support water quality in the Broad, particularly in the upper part of the basin above Lake Lure.  I have fished the Broad numerous times but until now, had never floated any portion of the Broad.  It has always been a goal of mine to paddle the Broad since I consider it my river.  I'm a Rutherford Countian so I should consider it mine given the fact that all streams in Rutherford County empty into the Broad or one of its major tributaries.

The Lower Broad River is separated from the Upper Broad River by Lake Lure.  The Lower Broad has been divided into ten runnable sections for a total of 41.3 river miles.  The upper portions of the Lower Broad tend to get run a little more often as access points tend to be close to main roads and tubing companies and outfitters over the years have helped bring attention to these sections of the river.  ROC has done a great job at describing the upper sections.  Middle and lower sections of the Broad lack good descriptions other than mileage  and some basic information.  This is mainly due to the fact that, until recently, river access was difficult to say the least, requiring trespassing on private property which doesn't do much to improve relations between river rats and landowners.  Accessibility has limited the number of potential paddlers on those sections of the river and thus has limited the overall knowledge that has been shared to interested paddlers and recreationists.

This particular trip was not only an excuse to get out of the office for the afternoon, but was also considered exploratory, the goal being to add detail to the limited description of the section we would be paddling.  Amy, our esteemed leader who is an Americorps Volunteer working with ROC and the Town of Lake Lure, decided that we needed to explore Section 6 which starts at Coxe Road and ends at Poors Ford Road; a total of 4.3 miles.

The Coxe Road river access is one of two brand new access points constructed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  These access points are great additions and necessary to ensure long-term access to the Broad River.  Hopefully, the access points will help change mindsets of people who are leery of paddlers (for whatever reason) and will encourage more participation by riverfront landowners.

So, now that you have the backstory, I will do my best to describe the trip and the river.  The Coxe Road river access is quite nice.   A nice gravel parking area provides plenty of room to unload boats.  The Commission has also installed a set of concrete steps to make river access so much easier.

Once at the bottom of the stairs, it's just a matter of putting your boat into the river and let the current take you where you want to go.  Here's another view of the ramp, pointing down river.

As you may notice from the pictures, the river was quite muddy on this particular day.  Recent heavy rains contributed significant amounts of runoff which usually contains quite a bit of silt and sediment.  Sediment is the single largest pollutant in the entire Broad River Basin and can severely degrade water quality.  As a result, much of the river bottom is very sandy.  More on sandy bottoms later in this story.

There were six of us on this trip, including Amy and me.  Without a whole lot of effort I put my kayak in and shoved off, paddling a short way upstream into a small eddy created by a downed tree upriver.  As I sat in the eddy, I contemplated the angry clouds I saw building around us and it occurred to me that we would be lucky if we didn't get rained on.

Finally everyone in our party was in the water.  Our journey downriver had begun.

The U.S 74 bridge marks the beginning of the journey downriver.
A view of the U.S. 74 bridge from below.  There were multiple barn swallow nests on the horizontal supports.
Here we are about 200 yards upstream of the Coxe Road bridge.
Remember what I was saying about rain?  Well it was about this point in the trip that the bottom fell out.  It started raining, and I don't mean gentle rain.  I'm talking Forrest Gump, "big 'ol fat rain."  it poured for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately there was no lightning, which wouldn't have mattered anyway because there was no place to get off the river.

Rain coming down at the Coxe Road bridge.
The Coxe Road bridge is just upstream of a couple of neat little rapids, one of which has a neat little chute on the right side of the river.  Beware of a fairly large rock there.  If you broadside it, you will swamp your boat.  On this day the river was up slightly so the rock was not as visible as it would be on a day the water is lower.  After clearing this little obstacle, it's gentle paddling the rest of the way.

A short distance downstream from the small set of rapids.  The rain has stopped.  Woohoo!
One of the things that I noticed as we floated down the river was how steep and high the banks are on this stretch of river.  For the entire section the banks tend to be six to twelve feet high and not as eroded as I would have expected on a major river that floods every couple of years.  The riparian buffer was largely intact with river birch (Betula nigra) and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) dominating the canopy.  There were also frequent occurrences of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanicum), black walnut (Juglans nigra), and ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana) that were easily identifiable without having to get off the river for further inspection.  I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of development in the riparian zone considering the amount of development that has occurred in the river basin. The banks were mostly mud soaked rock with occasional gray clay pockets.  I was also amazed at the number of pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) growing along the river bank.  Pawpaw grows thickly along the river giving the riparian forest an almost rainforest look.

Pawpaw in flower.  They were already finished on this particular day.
Other plant species I noted (in no particular order) were trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera), various grape species (Vitis sp.), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolius), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) and Carolina phlox (Phlox carolina).  There were occasional infestations of exotic invasives such as kudzu (Pueraria montana), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but no significant monocultures.

As we cruised along downstream, the current would vary in speeds, depending on how wide or narrow the channel was.  The river birch canopy made the travel quite comfortable for most of the way as the large trees drape over the river, offering much needed shade.

After losing a few feet of elevation, the Broad began to slow down quite a bit.  Notice the difference in the following pics compared to the previous ones.

Approaching a large sandbar in the middle of the river.
As the river flattened out and slowed, we eventually came to a sandbar in the middle of the river.  Sandbars such as this are the result of accumulated sediment that piles up due to the slowing of the water.  Fast water has enough kinetic energy to suspend sediment in the water column and carry it for miles and miles.  Slow water doesn't have as much kinetic energy to suspend the particles so they drop out of the water column and get deposited on the river bed and build up over time creating sandbars.  This particular sandbar divides the river into two channels.  There were trees blocking both channels.  The tree on the right side was fairly small and easy to remove and the channel was deeper there so it presented the best option for continuing downstream.  A brief exploration of the sandbar revealed very little in the way of plant growth other than some horse nettle (Solanum carolinense).  There were a couple of old tires and some water hose that had gotten stuck on the sandbar as well.  Obviously sandbars such as this get here during large storm events that tend to carry higher sediment loads.  It's never wise to linger too long on a sandbar such as this, particularly when there is a threat of rain or it has rained heavily upstream.  The risk of flooding is very high.  No plants (or small plants in this case) suggests frequent inundation and scouring so this sandbar is always moving and not a good place to be lingering for too long without weighing some risks.  It's definitely not a place to camp as foolish novices might be inclined to do.

As we paddled along, it was hard not to notice the number of trees that have fallen into the river.  A river is a dynamic feature.  Soil and water don't mix and occasional flooding weakens soil causing trees to uproot.  Riverside trees not suited for the wet environment will also die and fall over before they ever reach a mature size.  It is important to look for submerged logs and stumps that might pose a hazard, particularly in low water.  Occasionally I would find a piece of a log sticking up, creating a slight riffle in the current.  For the most part, particularly as the river widens, the trees are not an issue.  As this part of the Broad becomes more heavily used, it will be important to conduct occasional maintenance.

Our fearless leader, Amy Allamong showing how happy she is to be on the river.

About 500 yards from where the above picture was taken, we encountered another split in the river.  An island has formed.  Islands can form from large sandbars that accumulate enough sediment to grow steadily larger vegetation.  They can also form as a result of the river cutting into the bank at a turn.  The river will continue to scour the bank on the outside of the bend until it cuts off the mass of land from the bank resulting in a small island.  This may have been what happened here as there is a slight bend where this island is located.  Islands are more stable than sandbars and therefore support larger vegetation and tend to have more permanence than sandbars as the soil tends to be the same as that of the river bank.  Stay to the right as you paddle by the island.  The left will run you aground.  The left channel is slowly being filled in with sand so it appears that there will be some changes in this area as the left channel fills and forces the river down the right channel.  The increased depth and velocity will continue to scour the right bank and will either widen the river or create another island.  The opposite could also occur in that a large storm will sweep out the built up sand and re-open the left channel.  It will be interesting to see what happens here over the next few years.

Stay to the right to go around the island.
The downriver side of the island.  Notice the accumulated sand.
A brief rest and exploration of the island and we're ready to go again.

One of the major highlights of this section of river is where the Broad River meets the Green River.  At the confluence with the Green the trip is three-fourths complete.  It is quite remarkable to see how the river changes as the two rivers converge.  Instead of a nice shady river channel the channel doubles in size and becomes so large that the tree canopy no longer covers the river.  The river also slows to snail pace and you find yourself just drifting along at a pace that would almost allow you to read a book.

Just upstream of the convergence of the Broad and the Green. 
Looking upstream from the mouth of the Green River where it converges with the Broad.
Looking upstream at the Green on the left and the Broad on the right, below the convergence point.
Looking downstream of the confluence of the Broad and Green.  The river has almost doubled in width.
At this point it was almost like paddling across a lake.
At this point in the trip I took the time to take a depth measurement.  Throughout the trip someone would occasionally dip their paddle or themselves in the river and provide a depth measurement.  My measurement was around 3 feet.  This seemed to be pretty consistent for the entire section with depths ranging between 2 and 4 feet in most places across the channel.  Being that the water level was up a little bit, naturally these numbers would be less on a day when the water is lower.  Prior to running this section, it would be good to know what the water level is because there may be some places where running aground could be a possibility.

As I mentioned earlier, sand mining (dredging) has been a practice on the Broad River for as long as I can remember.  I am sure that there are plenty of people who are older than I who have more knowledge of some of the dredging practices, but everything has been used from draglines to excavators.  One of the more common methods in large river channels is hydraulic.  A hydraulic dredge is basically a giant pump with a cutter head th at pumps sand into a wash plant and makes it suitable for sale.  Hydraulic dredges give the sand miner greater access to large rivers where long-reach excavators may be impractical.

Wash plant for hydraulic dredging.  Notice the erosion problem on the bank.
Hydraulic dredge.  This dredge is held in place with cables that allow it to move back and forth across the river channel.
As we passed the dredge, I just happened to notice a cable draped across the river, part of which was above the water line.  This is one of the cables used to pull the dredge out into the middle of the channel.  In the middle of the channel the cable was below the water line but on the left bank, it was right at neck level for the average kayaker.  I cautioned our group as I spotted it first.  I would caution anyone paddling this section to please be aware of this potential hazard.  At lower water levels it is very likely that the cable could be just above the water line creating a navigational hazard as well as a safety hazard if someone isn't paying attention.  Please be careful here.

The Broad below where the hydraulic dredge was seen. 
About a quarter of a mile from the dredge the river will make a slight bend to the left.  The small house on the left bank is a sign that the Poors Ford Road bridge is approaching.  Just around the bend, the river begins to drop in elevation so the current picks up, and there are a few more rocks below the surface that could be a bit of a pain to negotiate during low water.  It's worth noting that the house under construction is one of only a small handful of houses along this section of river.  This section is largely undeveloped which in my opinion makes the trip seem much wilder than it actually is.

When you see this house, downriver a short distance will be the Poors Ford Road Bridge.
The Poors Ford Road bridge in the distance.
Getting closer to the bridge and the take-out.
Shortly after passing the house and coming into view of the bridge, the current begins to quicken.  It's a good idea at this point to begin moving toward the left bank if you plan to take out at the bridge.  The river below the bridge speeds up quite a bit with a long stretch of swift water with small rapids.  It is possible to take out at the bridge but it does require a pretty steep haul out up to the road.  At the bridge there is no area to park other than the road shoulder.  The property owner on the left bank, just above the bridge allowed us to park on his property for a small fee but long-term I'm not sure if this will continue and I would encourage caution in using this particular property as a regular takeout without some type of legal access agreement.  In order to insure future access, it will be necessary to foster relationships with riverfront landowners in hope of gaining better access to the river and reassuring those landowners that they have nothing to fear from paddlers and that paddlers have the best interest of the river in mind as well as those who live on it.

As I waited my turn to pull my kayak out of the water, sitting on the river's edge with an aching back and right shoulder (I paddled with an injury which probably wasn't very smart), I contemplated my adventure.  I will not soon forget the wonderfully relaxing afternoon I spent floating down the river that I love.  So now I can check Section 6 of the Broad River off my list.  Which one shall be my next adventure and who wants to go with me? 

If you would like more information on paddling the Broad River, I would suggest visiting the Paddling section of the Rutherford County Outdoor Coalition's website at  If you would like to see the river route, go to Google Earth and find the big green line that is the Broad River as it flows through Rutherford County.  I have posted several of these same photos to Panoramio that also give detailed descriptions of Section 6, from Coxe Road to Poors Ford Road.

Until next time, get outdoors and enjoy life.  You only live it once!