Boaters like the ones riding the personal
watercraft below can enjoy approximately
39 miles of river between Wilmington and
Lock and Dam #1.
“If any site could be found more unsuit-able
for foundation purposes, it has
not come to my attention,” district
engineer Horton Stickle wrote in 1914.
Nevertheless, the engineers pushed
through each obstacle and completed the
structure on July 12, 1915.
As boats approached the lock, they were
required to signal the lockmaster by giving
a series of whistle blasts no less than one-quarter
of a mile from the gates.
“In the old days, when somebody would
come up, they’d blow their horns,” Pillow
says. “Then the lockmaster would go down
and lock them through.”
Even after sending their alert, vessels
were not to come within 300 feet of the
lock until the lockmaster had raised or low-ered
the water level and opened the gates
for incoming traffic.
Before 1963, when a 0.5 horsepower
motor was added, all gates and valves were
opened manually. A steel wrench was fitted into a capstan — a revolving cylinder with
a vertical axis used for winding a rope or cable. Turning the wrench triggered the gate
mechanism and either pulled it open or pushed it closed. Four wrought iron valve
jacks located on top of the gate controlled water levels.
The area was opened to recreational visitors as early as 1947, and underwent a complete
overhaul in the early 1960s with the installation of a public boat ramp and restrooms.
A fishing pier, added five years ago, enticed even more visitors. The most common
fish caught in these waters include American shad, striped bass, and sturgeon. Others are
different types of bluegill and catfish.
While the lock and dam system succeeded as a means to get commercial boat traffic
up and down the river, it had the unfortunate consequence of preventing anadromous
fish — those that migrate from salt water to spawn in fresh water — from doing the
same. Over the years, it became apparent that their populations were on the decline.
Striped bass, sturgeon and shad were all affected by the structure.
The construction of rock arch rapids, completed in 2012, was meant to help revive
those populations. The fish passage is a series of boulders and rocks that simulate natural
rapids with pools to rest in along the way. It has been largely successful with some fish,
but not all.
“Shad have figured it out,” Polera says. “It looks like from tagging and stocking data
that stripers are passing about 20 percent right now. That’s why we’ve got another
$684,000 from the Coastal Recreational Fishing License Fund to re-engineer the passage
at Lock and Dam #1 to better suit the stripers.”
Along with the reconstruction of the fish passage, there are other efforts in place by
Cape Fear River Watch and Cape Fear River Partnership to replenish these depleted
populations. Children and young adults attending environmental classes and programs
at the lock and dam have the opportunity to help raise anadromous fish from eggs and
release them into the river.
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WBM september 2018