The Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) and partners are literally moving the earth over in Flat Rock to help restore the Ochlawaha bog. Excavators are stripping about a foot of fill dirt from an old tomato field in hopes of exposing the natural wetland soils that lie beneath. Next, they will encourage the channeled Mud Creek, which borders one side of the old field, to meander through the wetlands the way infrared imaging shows it used to. Ochlawaha is a Native American name meaning “slowly moving muddy waters” and was once applied to the creek itself.
CMLC and the N.C. Plant Conservation Program obtained a small forested area of the bog in 1998. Now with the help of the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the U.S. fish & Wildlife, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. clean Water Management Trust Fund, they are working to restore at least 30 acres of bog habitat.
Southern Appalachian mountain bogs are one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. Biologists estimate that only 500 acres or so of bog remain. Many scientists believe the area around Ochlawaha bog, fed by Mud Creek, could have contained the largest expanse of wetlands in the Southern Appalachians. Volunteers have worked planting native trees and the Western North Carolina Alliance has assisted with invasive exotic plant control.
Unfortunately for bogs and the critters and plants that call them home, they occupy/occupied what, in today’s market would be classified as “prime real estate.” So for settlers looking for a place to build a home, grow a crop or pasture domestic animals – flat was good. And while it was labor intensive, early settlers were pretty adept at draining wetlands. Then with the industrial revolution and ever-increasing mechanical capabilities, draining wetlands became easy and, even, filling depressions was just another day at work.
The vast majority of Southern Appalachian bogs are now homes, farms, subdivisions, strip malls, football fields, etc. And the vast majority of endemic Southern Appalachian bog flora and fauna is extinct, endangered and or threatened. At least 90 mountain-wetland species in North Carolina are considered rare, threatened or endangered. They include the bog turtle, mountain sweet pitcher plant, swamp pink, Gray’s lily, green pitcher plant and bunched arrowhead.
The endangered bunch arrowhead, Sagittaria fasciculata, is known from only about a dozen sites, all in either Henderson County or Greenville County, Sc. It has been recorded from the area of Ochlawaha bog and CMLC and U.S. Fish & Wildlife and partners hope that by enhancing the site it will provide the opportunity to re-establish bunched arrowhead plus create habitat for other wetland plants and animals.
Mountain bogs not only produce habitat for wetland flora and fauna, they also assist in flood control by slowing floodwaters down and allowing them to soak into the ground. Bogs also work as great water filters taking sediment and contaminants out of the water.
Some other notable wetland-preservation efforts around Western North Carolina include the Rough Creek watershed in Canton, Flat Laurel Creek and Tallulah Bog.
I believe CMLC is on the right track – just build it and they will come – bunched arrowhead and other endemic bog species.