Conservation Outdoors

Partnerships Help Keep Mills River Pristine

Hellbender. Photo by Michael Knoerr

By Allison Taylor

Western North Carolina is fortunate to have an abundance of public lands and natural resources, including the waters that give us life. Thankfully, there are many non-profit organizations, government agencies and businesses that aim to protect and improve these resources. Mills River Partnership (MRP) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are two outstanding organizations that work with local businesses to promote agricultural sustainability, outdoor conservation and natural resources management.

North River Farms and DB bar D Outfitters recognize and respect the impact that they can have on the waters in their backyard and have worked diligently to protect and improve their surrounding environment. Both businesses voluntarily collaborate with MRP and NCRS to improve and protect the Mills River.

The waters of Mills River provide the primary drinking source for Henderson County, support healthy fish and salamander populations and offer recreational opportunities for locals and tourists. MRP focuses on voluntary participation by stakeholders in coordinating resources for monitoring, preserving, protecting and improving the water quality of the Mills River watershed. MRP works with stakeholders, typically farmers and landowners, to implement best management practices that control sediment pollution.

Jason Davis, owner of North River Farms and co-owner of DB bar D Outfitters, recognized that his property’s location directly on the Mills River was at risk for spills from his agricultural processes. His farm’s vegetable fields required the use of sprayers that needed to be safely and efficiently refilled and cleaned. “When MRP received a grant from the Farm Bill in 2018 to work with farmers in improving the environment, Davis was swift to work with both MRP and the NRCS to build an agricultural chemical handling facility on the property which would avoid taking his equipment on a busy public road where accidents and spills were even more likely,” says Maria Wise, MRP’s director.

This facility is ready for use in the 2021 season. Grant funding has also been used in stream restoration projects along Foster’s Creek, which will prevent erosion and reduce sediment runoff into Mills River.

Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) is a program within NRCS that works with farmers who are willing to improve habitat conditions for imperiled species, such as the threatened hellbenders, giant aquatic salamanders that are highly sensitive to water quality, especially to sedimentation. “In a collaboration with North River Farms, MRP, and NRCS WLFW, we are working to improve conditions for hellbenders and other aquatic species in the Mills River,” says Mike Knoerr, a private lands biologist with NRCS. That work includes planting trees that expand vegetation buffers and stabilize stream banks.

Large cover rocks will also be placed in the river to provide important structure for hellbenders, trout and other species that need the cover to hide and reproduce. “We are thrilled to be working with Jason Davis who is clearly motivated to protect our cultural and natural heritage that is the Mills River,” Knoerr says.

For more information on MRP or to address erosion problems, visit For more information on the NRCS WLFW program, visit

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