Restoring a stream beneath a bridge in Unicoi County East Tennessee has gotten quite the reputation as a trout fishing destination, for the monster rainbows and browns. The unsung heroes of the sport are the smaller brook trout. They are a sensitive species with a need for clean, cold, quality water and wide habitat. Such was the case in Unicoi County, Tenn., in the Cherokee National Forest, where a box culvert had been years ago built underneath a road crossing on Briar Creek, a tributary to the Nolichucky River.
It created an interruption in brook trout habitat. Water could still flow beneath the road. There was a big opening underneath the bridge, but there was a slick concrete pad there so that when the stream ran over it, the water was shallow and fast and there were none of the riffles or pools found in a natural stream. The water ran so fast that it eroded the stream bed on the downstream side and created a little waterfall. The fish would have to jump up to even get up to the pad in shallow water conditions, which was nearly impossible for them.
The result was a disconnect between two populations of brook trout, which many times result in genetic isolation. Advocates for the fish—TVA, Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in this case—joined together to fix the problem, replacing the box culvert with a new, bottomless arch culvert, as shown in the photo above.
The new culvert will restore the stream bed and create riffles and so that as fish move up and down the stream beneath the road will open up about two miles of habitat for the downstream trout.