NORMAN – Members of the Luke Black family have partnered with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to preserve a section of land along the Caddo River through the AGFC Stream Habitat Program.
Lucian Ellis Black Sr. and his wife Esther bought several acres of farm land along the Caddo River shortly after World War II. The Black’s had moved to Washington State in the 1930s for work, but had always had a desire to move back to Montgomery County. Luke’s daughter Mary Beth Lysobey shared that their father raised cattle and did carpentry work to support the land. Later chicken houses were added to the farm.
As time went by the Black family watched the bank along the Caddo River slowly erode as the river widened at the border of the property. The clearing of the land for farming and pasture land had left the river bank exposed to erosion.
Desperate to stop the process the family began researching ways to combat erosion along the Caddo River. Five of the 10 Black family siblings banded together, buying out the other siblings. Terry Black, Mary Beth Lysobey, Mark Black, Kathy Kubler and Quinn Black, the widow of Mickey Black, reached out to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Stream Habitat Program.
Matthew Irvin, the program coordinator for Region Four, which includes Montgomery County, stated that clearing the vegetation along the river bank is what causes the erosion. In a case such as the Blacks often the land is cleared to provide easier river access for cattle. Others might clear away the vegetation to provide a better view of the river from their home or cabin, or provide access to the river for swimming.
While ease of access may seem like a legitimate reason to clear the vegetation. Irvin stresses that doing so allows for erosion of the riverbank which damages the ecosystem within the river. It also robs the landowner of their property.
Irvin stated that landowners need to leave a 50-100 feet buffer, called a riparian area, along the riverbank to prevent erosion. Without the riparian area the flow of the water cuts into the riverbank, washing the soil into the river. This leads to a wider, shallower channel in the river which is called skinny water.
Irvin explained that skinny water allows the rocks in the riverbed to absorb more heat which causes an elevation in the temperature of the water.
“Fish don’t do well in skinny water.” He shared.
The ideal situation is to have a narrow deep channel with a series of ripples, pools and glides with shade on both sides of the river. Otherwise, the continuing increase in water temperature will lead to the loss of the small mouth bass fishery.
Irvin went on to say that the Caddo River is special to all of us. While there are a lot of special places around the state of Arkansas, few rival the clear, cool water of the Caddo River. Home to small mouth bass it is a favorite fishing destination for many. Others travel to Montgomery County to float the river on canoes, kayaking or tubes.
As the river widens and becomes shallower not only does the water become unsuitable for the small mouth bass, it becomes too shallow to float.
Fortunately for landowners AGFC has developed ways to not only prevent future erosion but rebuild the land along the river. Erosion control efforts also deepen the channels in the river which improves the floating experience.
The Black family has about 1,000 feet of riverbank without a riparian area
Irvin shared that the Stream Habitat Program utilizes natural structures called rock vanes to steer the water back to the center of the stream channel while creating calm water against the eroding bank. Fast water flows off the tips of the vanes. This allows the clean water to flow off the tips while the slower cloudy water is captured in the notch of the vane. This allows the sediment to drop out near the bank along the vane, helping to reduce the amount of erosion sediment in the river.
Early conservation efforts used vanes pointing downstream. The thought was this would direct water away from the bank. Unfortunately, the result was the opposite.
Now vanes are built pointing up stream at a 30-degree angle. This directs the flow of fast water away from the bank. It also collects sediment in the notch of the vane and energy shadow behind the vane. As sediment gathers seeds will settle and help restore the riparian area.
The vane is built at a 10 percent slope. This slope helps direct 90 percent of the water back into the river channel as water levels rise. As an extra safeguard the vane is keyed into the bank 20 feet to prevent any future erosion from destroying the vane.
The Black family project is comprised of 10 vanes using 1,300 tons of Stanley Shale purchased locally from CertainTeed. The large boulders were placed in the river by local heavy equipment operators.
The project began two years ago. Irvin explained that it can take up to a year to get the site visit and plan completed. They also help landowners with permits. The Black family project required two permits. One from US Army Corps of Engineers allows them to add boulder size material to the stream channel. One for short term activity authorization from ADEQ.
The second phase of the project was to create a new riparian layer along the riverbank. Volunteers from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission joined members of the Black family in planting grass, shrubs and trees along the riverbank in November.
One of the Black family siblings, Mark Black, is a plant pathologist. He selected the plant species used to recreate a riparian area on their property.
Irvin stated that species native to the area are used to blend the new riparian area into the rest of the landscape. The planting is done in three layers. Grass is planted nearest the river with a row of shrubs inland. The third layer planted the furthest from the river is made up of trees native to the area.
The AGFC Stream Team program, now known as the Stream Habitat Program, has been around for more than 25 years. Locally they have completed projects on the Ouachita River and the Caddo River.
If you are interested in restoring the riverbank on your land and are interested in the Stream Habitat Program you can find information on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website at AFGC.com