Field Trip to Big South Fork of the New River, Scott County, TN
June 30, 2001
text description by Bruce Stallsmith, Huntsville, AL
photos and photo text by Steven A. Ellis, Kennesaw, GA

(The following description by Bruce is from the NANFA email discussion list)
I've caught up enough with my sleep and general obligations that I wanted to share our trip to the Big South Fork of the New River in Scott County, TN, on Saturday. Most of us who indicated interest made it there--Casper Cox, Steven Ellis (with son Jonathan and pal Joey), Geoff Kimber and my humble self (no Klaus though). I drove up from 'bama early Saturday morning so that I rendezvoused with everyone else at about 11:30 a.m. E.S.T. at Leatherwood Ford on the BSF. This was a beautiful site, fast-flowing water chest-deep in places, over brick-sized water-worn cobble. There is so much coal in the area that the streambed is strewn with briquet-size chunks of coal, also water-worn. I kept seeing exposed coal seams in roadway cuts in the area all day. Because the BSF at this point is part of the National Park system, we couldn't collect there legally without permits. So we caravaned out to the east, looking for a reasonable stream. We wanted a clear stream so that snorkeling was an option.

We went to a site upstream on the BSF/New River in Winona, TN, at JR Shute's recommendation. A good place, but the water was like reddish chocolate milk from sediment load. After cogitating on our options, we drove off to the northeast and wound up wandering around serious back roads that bore little relation to the roads in the DeLorme Gazetteer. This also didn't get us anywhere, as the creeks were either inaccessible, occupied by cows or silty. Finally we found a reasonable site on Paint Rock Creek in (I think) the town of Huntsville, TN. We only found one obvious septic tank seepage(!!) into the stream, downstream from where we mostly collected. (This being coal mining country, most people seemed to be really poor, with a few very well off. But I'll leave the details to my political economics class.) We were able to manipulate the smallish seine net I brought in the creek with reasonable effectiveness. We found lots of striped shiners and creek chubs, almost to the point of making us leave in frustration. But as we worked upstream we started finding an interesting diversity. Here's a list of common names, best as I can remember: brown bullhead rainbow darters ashy darter(??) (if so, a first for me certainly) longear sunfish (one esp. beautiful) bluegill sunfish rosefin shiners, in full breeding coloration! find of the day! sand shiners (a first for me, that's how far north we were) and... stonerollers! (I kept 7 for a genetics project; Campostoma anomalum?)

Not an overwhelming list compared to other sites we as a group have visited. But I'm afraid that this short list represents 150+ years of poor land use by poor people, in short the economic history of Appalachia. Inside the Park I bet we would have found more diverse stream communities. But that's pure conjecture on my part.

Even with a shortish list we all had a good time of it. I was happy to finally meet Geoff. Even with all my semi-political griping the area is still beautiful (esp. out of range of peoples' septic systems...) and I know I'd like to go back to the BSF with my wife and spend several nights. We were all struck by how clean and well-maintained the campsite and other use areas were in the Park. And I've barely mentioned the exquisite geology and rock formations (including obvious fossil-bearing sediments)... It's your Park system, visit the place!

map22b.jpg (4553 bytes)

Left to right: Joey Gullo, Jonathan Massie, Casper Cox, Geoff Kimber, Bruce Stallsmith

waste12b.jpg (4525 bytes)

This is the source of the foul odor in the creek. Although I know these things happen with alarming frequency, it's still rather startling to personally observe this stuff trickling into the water where you're standing. I thought it was chemical waste at first glance, but it turmed out to be the outlet of a community cesspool. As you can see, everything in it's path dies, and then it goes into the stream...

nupntrok2b.jpg (3810 bytes)

Paint Rock Creek (TN), slightly above the doo-doo drainage.

preznjoe2b.jpg (4343 bytes)

Bruce Stallsmith initiates a young rookie from Marietta, GA, Joey Gullo. My collection bucket is in serious jeopardy here.

rosefins2b.jpg (3329 bytes)

Rosefin shiners. (Thanks to Klaus for the photo tips on how to shoot 'em up close). How can these beauties survive in such polluted waters?

ident2b.jpg (4440 bytes)

After the collecting is over, there is time to gab and ID the inevitable mystery fish we have encountered. Other than the obvious fellowship factor, another benefit is making sure before we leave the site that we haven't gathered a protected fish. Here Geoff Kimber (left) and Casper Cox attempt to ID the unknown darter o' day.

Stay tuned, more trips are coming up!

Click HERE to read an entertaining account by Casper Cox of a trip he took in the days around this Big South Fork get-together.