The watershed represents some of what is best on the planet, and much of what is not. As an organization, NCCC accepts and pursues the responsibility for improving the ecological condition of the watershed, with a deep understanding that no watershed exists in a vacuum, and our work must extend beyond the borders of the evenflow.
The centerpiece of NCCC’s conservation effort to date is the 7,000 acre North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Natural Area. Including the State of Tennessee’s August 2007 acquisition of Bowater Inc.’s holdings along the creek — which added the 1,100 acre North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness — the Gorge is now protected on both sides of the creek for approximately 8 miles.
The Natural Area is a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds and has included a section of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail since 1998. The North Chickamauga Creek Gorge is listed by the National Park Service in their Nationwide Rivers Inventory for its “outstanding scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, and cultural values.” In addition, it is on the “Top 200″ list of the American Rivers Conservation Council; is on AWA’s Top 40 list for 1993/1994 “Most Deserving of Attention for Protection”; and is one of the highest quality and most difficult whitewater creeks in the eastern U.S. A portion of the Gorge, primarily the lower area, has been surveyed for rare plant and animal species. Several have been identified and located in the gorge area.
Protection of the pristine wilderness areas within and adjoining the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge is possibly the most urgent land conservation need in the Hamilton County area. NCCC works closely with the Cumberland Trail State Park and the Division of Natural Areas staff in the management of the Natural Area.
Significant sources of acidic mine drainage originate from historic abandoned underground and surface coal mines and impact the headwaters and upper 18 miles of the creek. A multi-year project to design and install passive treatment systems, such as anoxic limestone drains and constructed wetlands, is underway. NCCC’s partners include the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM), TVA, Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control and its Land Reclamation section, and Tennessee Department of Agriculture, among others. The goal of the project is to improve the water quality to a level that will support restoration of a warm water fishery and possibly provide an opportunity to reestablish a state endangered fish, the Ohio River muskellunge. OSM uses its efforts in the North Chickamauga Creek watershed as a national model for its Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative. The creek’s water below Cave Springs is sufficient to support a modest trout fishery (the only one in Hamilton County). It is regularly stocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.