NANFA-- Big South Fork trip (kinda long)

Bruce Stallsmith (
Mon, 02 Jul 2001 22:39:09 -0400

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
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; _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!

--Bruce Stallsmith
Huntsville, AL, US of A

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