The Ford Gets Rebuilt

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Quinn
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When I was considering buying the property I now call Panther’s Hollow, my chief concern was how I was going to manage the access, not only for myself but for movers, contractors, guests, etc. with only a ford and a swinging bridge over the large creek, which some call a river. My realtor soon learned of a plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put a one-lane driving bridge over the ford.  They wanted to eliminate all the fords in order to restore fish habitat and improve water quality in the creek. This was one of the important factors in my decision to buy the property, though the access turned out to be less of a problem than I feared.

The bridge was to be built in the fall or winter of 2014/2015, but there were delays in getting the necessary approvals. Then changes had to be made in the design, which made the cost prohibitive. Early in 2015 we were told that the plan had been put on hold, but possibly they would be able to use an older bridge that’s supposed to be replaced further down the creek in 2017. Meanwhile a decision was made to rebuild the ford, which would help the fish by restoring a more normal configuration to the stream banks.

Melanie, the project director, explained to me that the ford had “sagged.” Ideally, she said, the crossing would be at a riffle; however over time the crossing had been hollowed out by many years of people driving through it, while the slight riffle was now farther downstream, where I infamously got my Trailblazer stuck last spring. So, for several weeks last winter there was a construction crew—complete with heavy machinery — reconfiguring the ford, with Melanie standing in the creek in her chest-waders, sometimes in the coldest weather, directing the process.

The transformation is quite impressive.  A row of huge stones now extends below the swinging bridge from one shore to the other, creating a wall that the water pours over with a pleasant rushing sound. Meanwhile, rows of stones along the banks have narrowed the channel and created shoals on either side. The banks have been flattened and planted with native shrubs and grasses, and the ford is now teeming with fish!

(Okay, they’re hard to see in the picture, but they’re everywhere — honest!)

They’ve also poured a fresh bed of stone into the ford making it shallower, but the current is stronger now so driving can be tricky when the creek is a bit high. A repairman of mine got stuck recently, when the current caught the back of his truck and pulled it around.

As for me, I’ve gone back to one vehicle — not a creek-worthy one — so I don’t deal with the creek at all, except to wade through it on hot, sunny days and go for a dip in the nice pool below the ford. The current is too strong for swimming, but if you just sit there it’s like a natural Jacuzzi!

Now I hear that Plan B — getting that older bridge — has also been scrapped as too costly. So it seems I’ll hauling provisions over the swinging bridge for as long as I live here. Actually, I had become rather ambivalent about the bridge project. I really prefer things the way they are, despite the inconvenience. With the bridge, people would have built new houses on my side of the creek, bringing increased traffic and new neighbors. Neighbors are fine, except when they’re zooming up and down the road on dirt bikes and ATVs, or their dogs are chasing your cats and chickens!

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