Paddle-n-Plant: MountainTrue & Watauga Riverkeeper

Paddle-n-Plant: MountainTrue & Watauga Riverkeeper

MountainTrue volunteers. Photo by Bettie Hill

MountainTrue and the Watauga Riverkeeper will host a Paddle-n-Plant Workday on the Watauga River on February 9. This is one of a series of events intended to engage volunteers in planting live-stakes along eroding riverbanks. “Live staking is planting a living cutting of a dormant tree,” says Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill. “This process involves harvesting a cutting of a living tree found in the riparian zone, or riverbank area, and replanting directly into the riverbank.” These trees create a “riparian buffer,” which filters the flow of pollution like stormwater runoff into the river. Stormwater runoff carries harmful pollutants like road salt; brake dust; petrochemicals like gas and oil; and fecal contaminants from pets, livestock or agriculture.

Not only do the live-staked trees help to keep the river clean and healthy, but they also provide habitats that are important to the river’s ecological community. The trees prevent erosion and the flow of sediment into the river, which can smother aquatic habitat for key species like trout, creek chubs and the beloved hellbender salamander. “While the Watauga River has generally excellent water quality, sediment pollution from stormwater runoff and steep slope development is the gravest threat to water quality and freshwater ecosystem health,” says Hill. “A healthy riparian zone can help our rivers and communities to be more flood resilient, and will be a key factor of protecting environmental and community health in a changing climate.” During the workdays, MountainTrue uses locally sourced, native plants such as sycamore, black willow and elderberry, which also act as pollinators for birds and bees.

MountainTrue prioritizes fun for the volunteers on these workdays, and river lovers of all kinds are welcome to join, from paddlers and fishing guides to birdwatchers and families. “We believe that an engaged, educated and empowered community can be the strongest environmental champion,” says Hill.

Among the most dedicated volunteers for these workdays are fly fishermen, as their lifestyle is reliant on a healthy river. Alex Dale of Foscoe Fishing Company says these workdays have a myriad of benefits for business, economy and quality of life. “From a small business owner’s point of view, I need a healthy fishery for my customers to enjoy while they’re here,” he says. “The majority of my business is built on tourism, so it is imperative that the rivers my customers drive hours to fish aren’t washing out and uninhabitable for trout.”

The workday begins with a meeting in the morning for an introduction and briefing. Tools and waders will be distributed and a plan for the day will develop. The volunteers usually split into groups, with some groups on the bank prepping the live stakes for planting while others do the actual planting into the river bank. “We continue downstream and upstream from our prep zone until all the stakes are planted,” says Hill. Most workdays result in between 500 and 1,000 trees planted.

MountainTrue has held dozens of workdays across the French Broad, Green and Watauga River watersheds. “We have seen great success with these workdays,” Hill says. While some plantings are eventually lost to floods, bank failures or drought, there is about a 70 to 80 percent success rate. There is also the less measurable result of engaging the community in protecting a natural asset. “We hope to plant 10,000 trees this year and engage new volunteers who will join our river family and become impassioned environmental champions,” says Hill.

The February 9 workday will start at Valle Crucis Community Park, 2892 Broadstone Road in Banner Elk. For more information or to register for the workday, visit

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