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Volunteers dismantle beaver dams to fix flooding

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SELMA — Carl Carlson and Carlos Reyes have found a way of volunteering by helping solve a problem within their community while at the same time doing something outdoors they both enjoy that involves, of all things, beaver dams.

Carlson is formerly of Washington state and now lives in Selma while Reyes, formerly of California, now lives in Micro.

Both men work for the Raleigh-based highway contractor Fred Smith Co. Each has been in the area since around 2000 working at various job sites and they have become friends over that time.

They are currently involved with the Ricks Road widening project in Selma.

When getting off from work each afternoon, Carlson said he’s generally traveled along Firetower Road en route to pick up his children, who stay with grandparents in Pine Level during the day.

Firetower Road runs between two manmade ponds known as borrow pits, something that’s commonplace in the highway construction business, according to Carlson. The bodies of water are unofficially known as Twin Ponds.

About three years ago, Carlson said the men began seeing lots of water standing in the area between the two ponds and at times it almost covered Firetower Road.

They talked about the problems of high water and overflowing banks and Carlson said they were pretty sure the cause was beavers building dams upstream.

Carlson had been involved with beavers previously while in Washington and had lots of experience in how to deal with them.

“Beavers build dams so they can access better resources and food,” said Carlson. “Their food sources are primarily fish, crawfish and the bark off trees. They are very ambitious in building the dams and generally do not improve the land.”

Around this same time while working on the Ricks Road project, Carlson noticed a man wearing a town of Selma hat. He said he was a hat collector and this hat was one he liked and did not have.

The man turned out to be Steve Merklin, a crew supervisor for the Selma Water Department.

While on the job site one day Merklin and Carlson were discussing various storm drain problems in and around Selma, including Twin Ponds.

They learned that the area where the creeks and ponds were located is part of the Moccasin Creek drainage basin.

According to Moccasin Creek district board chairman Dicky Braswell of Pine Level in a June 2017 newspaper article, the creek is a natural-flowing channel of water running for 22 miles beginning near Selma and passing through Pine Level before eventually reaching Neuse River and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

Braswell said the creek has been around in some form for thousands of years and should be around for many more.

Long before the creek received its name or the towns of Selma and Pine Level were formed, Moccasin Creek has been cutting its own path based solely on gravity by following the route of least resistance through the countryside and woodlands on its way to lower ground, said Braswell.

“Water from all ditches, small streams, tributaries and canals within the district flows into Moccasin Creek,” said Braswell. “Running water has got to go somewhere and it is never going to go away.”

“Moccasin Creek is important,” said Braswell. “If it was ignored or did not exist, you would start seeing water standing in yards and on property with silt and trash backing up throughout the drainage district.”

“Carlos and I talked about it and decided we wanted to do something about the dams,” said Carlson.

With Merklin’s help, the men got permission from the landowner where one of dams was located to go in and dismantle it about six weeks ago.

Carlson said they used kayaks to reach the area that was about 1½ miles deep into the woods.

“We dismantled it in about four hours and the force of water flowing was immense,” said Carlson. “The water had already gone down in the ponds a lot within about three hours after we had knocked it down.”

Since then, the men have been out several more times tearing down dams in the area and have dismantled five, said Carlson.

The work has been done totally on a volunteer basis and despite the snakes, snapping turtles, ticks, mosquitoes and demanding physical labor required, both men say they thoroughly enjoy what they are doing.

There is another dam they’re currently trying to reach but have had no luck in contacting the property owner to get permission.

Realizing this, they went to Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver, who said during last week’s Selma Town Council meeting that she’s working on the matter.

During the meeting Oliver also recognized Carlson and Reyes and thanked them on behalf of the town for their work with the beaver dams.

“It has been fun, but we both enjoy volunteering for the community,” said Reyes. “I also like setting a good example for my children.”

“The efforts of Carl Carlson and Carlos Reyes are a great example of folks who see a problem and take the initiative to try to solve it,” Oliver said. “They could just as easily have seen the dams, talked about how large they were and walked away, but they did not. Instead, they went to work dismantling them so the water in the Twin Ponds area and nearby ditches could flow more freely and not be dammed up to where they would overflow.”

Oliver said she was impressed with how the men dismantled not just one dam but several.

“They are now seeking licenses to trap the animals, thus helping to reduce the number of dams being built on an ongoing basis,” said Oliver. “They are great role models for all of us and I’m so proud of them.”

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