ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, along with volunteers and other entities, recently finished up a sixth year of habitat enhancement on Lake Gaston, a 20,000-acre impoundment located in Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties along the Virginia border.
Since 2014, they have built and maintained more than 70 fenced-in areas, called exclosures, around the lake and planted several thousand native aquatic plants both within and outside of these exclosures.
Planting and maintaining native vegetation are particularly important given the presence of hydrilla, a non-native, highly invasive plant in the lake. The Lake Gaston Weed Control Council has worked for years to control the spread of hydrilla in Lake Gaston, using a combination of herbicides and sterile grass carp. Biologists anticipate the planted native vegetation will compete with hydrilla providing shoreline stabilization, reducing sedimentation, improving fish habitat and providing anglers with better fishing opportunities in Lake Gaston.
The fenced exclosures protect the newly planted vegetation from being eaten by herbivores, such as turtles and sterile grass carp. Volunteers and staff have planted a variety of native vegetation, such as spatterdock, white water lily, watershield, eelgrass, and pondweed. These plantings have provided much needed habitat for popular game fishes that prefer underwater vegetation — like largemouth bass and crappie.
In June and July, a work group repaired existing exclosures, built two additional exclosures and planted native vegetation at 14 sites throughout the lake. The group added native aquatic vegetation to both new and existing exclosures, located at Beechwood Flats, the I-85 bridge, the Flats, Poplar, Big Stonehouse, Little Stillhouse, Kings Branch and Still House creeks.
None of this could have been done without the assistance of volunteers including N.C. State University, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Dominion Energy and the Lake Gaston Association, according to Mark Fowlkes, the Commission’s Piedmont aquatic habitat coordinator.
“Boy Scout Dylan Cook participated for his second time this year and we also had a number of new young anglers from the Brunswick Academy Vikings Fishing Club, which was very encouraging,” Fowlkes said. “I’d also like to thank the Lake Gaston Association for providing great volunteers and lunch to everyone
“A revegetation project of this size is not possible without the many volunteers who work tirelessly to make it happen,” Fowlkes added. “One such person is Wally Sayko, the volunteer coordinator with the Lake Gaston Association, who has been instrumental in getting volunteers and support from neighborhoods on the lake. He is stepping down from that position and we are really going to miss his hard work and dedication to this project.”
The habitat enhancement project is funded by the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council, Dominion Energy, the N.C. State University Department of Crop Science and through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.. The Sport Fish Restoration Program utilizes state fishing license money and federal grant funds derived from federal excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat fuels.
Fowlkes says that volunteers are still needed for a full lake aquatic vegetation survey to be conducted in September and October. Anyone who is interested should contact Jessica Baumann at firstname.lastname@example.org