Seventy-seven acres of newly protected forestland will forever protect water quality and habitat along the North Fork Little River. The Eno River Association, working in partnership with a willing landowner, Orange County, the City of Raleigh, and the City of Durham, has placed a permanent conservation easement on the property located a mile upstream of Little River Regional Park, and less than five miles upstream of Durham’s Little River Reservoir. This land lies within the zone designated by Orange County as the Little River Protected Watershed and as a priority by the City of Durham Land Conservation for its Water Quality Protection Model.
The new conservation easement protects approximately 3,300 feet (0.6 miles) of frontage along the North Fork Little River and 2,300 feet (0.4 miles) of frontage along the river’s Tapley Creek tributary, and permanently extinguishes the landowner’s rights to develop the property. This conserved land will be maintained as forest and riparian habitat for plants and wildlife native to the North Carolina Piedmont. The Eno River Association and Orange County will co-hold the easement.
The Little River is a major tributary of the Eno River, flowing into the Eno between Penny’s Bend and Falls Lake Reservoir. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program has rated the Little River’s aquatic habitat as being “of state significance.” Little River Regional Park lies on the boundary between Durham and Orange counties, and was created as a joint project between the two counties, the Eno River Association, and Triangle Land Conservancy. Durham’s Little River Reservoir is a primary drinking water resource for the city.
The remains of former rock dams are evident in two places along the river on the property. One of the dams is upstream of a former mill site. An earthen mill race with periodic rock supports runs parallel to the river approximately 1,000 feet eastward before entering the mill site. The remains of the mill include a rock foundation, sluiceway, and an iron shaft and gear works that once turned to operate the mill. According to documents in the possession of the landowner, the mill was built for the Smith family in 1809. Smith Mill, later Wagoner Mill, was one of many mills that operated in rural Orange County before the 20th century. The remnants of this will now be protected from future development.