Thursday, August 23, 2012

Roanoke makes river more popular for fish and recreation

Two years later, and the new and improved bridge that crosses the Roanoke River in Roanoke, Va., is still a gift to the fish that make the river their home, as well as to the people of the city.

Completed on May 20, 2010, the installation of the new bridge was the final step in the Wiley Drive Bridge replacement project that including replacing the previous bridge with one that would better serve the fish and other visitors to the Roanoke River.

The main purpose of the project was to allow more movement for groups of Roanoke logperch, a fish protected under the Endangered Species Act, that have been documented in upper and lower sections of the river. The former bridge acted almost as a dam, keeping the populations separated from one another and lowering genetic diversity. 

Before and after the bridge replacement. Credit: USFWS

The dam-like bridge also created an inconvenience for the people of Roanoke by obstructing passage for recreational boaters and creating flood hazards by blocking flood flows from passing under the bridge. The new bridge allows boaters to pass underneath it and large amounts of water to flow more freely through. It is also a vital link in the Roanoke River Greenway, connecting two public parks and providing walkers, bikers and joggers with a safe and easy way to cross the river.

Willard Smith, biologist at the Virginia Field Office, played a key role in acquiring the contracts and funding necessary to make the project happen and has been very happy with its results.

“The new bridge has met all of our goals,” he said. “It has lowered local flood profiles, eased passage for fish and boaters and actually allowed space for some habitat to exist under the bridge where there was only concrete before.”

The bridge replacement has added to the benefits of the Wasena Dam removal project completed in February 2009, which involved the demolition of a 255-foot dam on the Roanoke River. The dam was also removed in order to support the recovery of the endangered Roanoke logperch.

The Wiley Drive Bridge replacement project could not have been completed without the support of many partners. Funding was provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), FishAmerican Foundation, the Service and the City of Roanoke.

“It was the partnerships, the various people and entities coming together that really made this happen. The Service couldn’t have done it alone,” said Smith. “What I like about this project is that it has such wide-ranging benefits. It positively impacts not just the fish, but the people of Roanoke in many ways.” 

Want to read other articles on fish passage? (Of course you do!)

Submitted by Maddie List

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