The Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin is North Carolina’s second largest basin, including 5,862 stream miles and 22,988 lake acres, and spanning 21 counties and 93 municipalities. The River Basin covers approximately 7,221 square miles of North Carolina. The current population within the basin is about 1.6 million, with an average population density of 222 persons per square mile.
Approximately half of the watershed is forestland, most of it privately owned. Nearly one-third of the watershed is used for agriculture, including cropland (15.6 percent) and pastureland (14.1 percent). Just 13 percent of the land is developed, although this figure is rising rapidly.
From its headwaters near Blowing Rock, the Yadkin River flows east and then south across North Carolina’s densely populated midsection. It travels 203 miles — passing farmland; draining the urban landscapes of Winston-Salem, Statesville, Lexington and Salisbury; and fanning through seven man-made reservoirs before its name changes to the Pee Dee River below Lake Tillery. The Pee Dee courses another 230 miles to the Atlantic, leaving North Carolina near the community of McFarlan and ending its journey at South Carolina’s Winyah Bay. The Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin bisects North Carolina, running north to south, neatly separating counties on its journey.
Major tributaries of the Yadkin Pee Dee River include the Mitchell, Ararat, Uwharrie and Rocky rivers and Dutchmans, Long and Abbotts creeks. The uppermost reservoir in the basin is W. Kerr Scott Reservoir. Six reservoirs farther downstream are known as the Yadkin chain lakes: High Rock, Tuckertown, Badin (Narrows), Falls, Tillery and Blewett Falls. They were all built in the first half of the 20th century to power aluminum smelters and electric utilities.
High Rock is the first and largest of the Yadkin chain lakes. Badin, the oldest in the chain, was built in 1917 just below the gorge called “the Narrows” to power an aluminum plant in Badin. Badin Lake has been described as a bassmaster’s paradise, where largemouths lurk around the forested shoreline’s rocky points. Bald eagles visit Badin and other reservoirs, making ample meals of fish below the dams’ turbines.
Forested land covers half of the basin, including the federal lands of the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 50,000-acre Uwharrie National Forest, which lies completely within the basin. Since it originates in the Blue Ridge and drains portions of the Piedmont, Sandhills and Coastal Plain, the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin contains a wide variety of habitat types, as well as many rare plants and animals. The basin’s rare species inventory (including endangered, threatened, significantly rare or of special concern) includes 38 aquatic animals. Two species are federally listed as endangered — the shortnose sturgeon, a migratory marine fish that once spawned in the river but has not been spotted in the basin since 1985, and the Carolina heelsplitter, a mussel now known from only nine populations in the world, including the lower basin’s Goose Creek. Five new species, all mollusks, have been added to the state’s endangered species list — the Carolina creekshell, brook floater, Atlantic pigtoe, yellow lampmussel and savannah lilliput.
Source: N.C. Office of Environmental Education, (919) 733-0711, http://www.eenorthcarolina.org