ROCKINGHAM — Through a partnership with the Cole Foundation, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently completed improvements on the Diggs tract, a 1,665-acre portion of the Pee Dee River Game Land in southern Richmond County.
The improvements to roads, structures and habitat have opened up additional public access to the tract and created the only public boating access to the Pee Dee River between Hwy. 74 and Cheraw, S.C., making it an outdoors destination for hunters, anglers, boaters and wildlife watchers.
Commission staff upgraded a 2-mile road from Old Cheraw Highway to the Pee Dee River that was previously impassable during wet weather to a road that can be utilized by all vehicles in any weather conditions. Staff also constructed a handicapped-accessible concrete boat ramp and floating dock, which give boaters additional options for excursions on the Pee Dee River. The ramp provides an additional destination point for the City of Rockingham’s paddle trail on Hitchcock Creek, which joins the Pee Dee River above the Diggs tract.
At the boat ramp, staff erected seven interpretive signs with information on the natural and cultural resources and management activities on the tract.
Along with improving public access to the tract, staff improved the habitat for wildlife by thinning stands of dense pines, conducting controlled burns, creating small wetlands from sediment basins, controlling invasive plants, and creating a new field for dove hunting and other hunting and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
The habitat improvement will benefit animals that utilize early successional habitat. Wildlife, such as quail, songbirds, and many species of amphibians and reptiles, depend on early successional habitat for food and cover. Early successional habitat has been identified in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan as priority habitat in need of management attention.
The Wildlife Commission acquired the Diggs tract from Progress Energy, now Duke Energy, in 2009. At the time, the only access to the Pee Dee River and to much of the tract was an old logging road, which led to a dirt boat ramp. Neither was usable during poor weather conditions.
“Because of this degraded infrastructure, the main gate was closed at the top of the road, cutting off public boating access,” said Jeff Marcus, the Commission’s Piedmont Wildlife Diversity Supervisor who spearheaded the conservation and renovation effort. “Improving access to this tract of land was a priority for us because it supports some of the better wetland, stream and bottomland hardwood habitats in the area.”
The Diggs tract has excellent populations of deer, turkey, rabbits and other game species, Marcus said. It also is home to several rare species, such as the Swainson’s warbler, Kentucky warbler, and timber rattlesnake. The diversity of wildlife and habitats found on the Diggs tract provides ample hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching opportunities.
“Birders, in particular, will find that this tract is a good place to see a wide variety of birds throughout the year, such as bald eagles, ospreys, songbirds like American redstarts and prothonotary and Kentucky warblers, migrating shorebirds, and wintering waterfowl,” Marcus said. “The Pee Dee River provides good angling opportunities for game fish such as American shad, redbreast sunfish, and several species of catfish. Because the Pee Dee is not dammed between the Diggs tract and the Atlantic Ocean, it supports anadromous fish (fish that spend most of their adult life in the ocean and migrate up rivers to spawn) and several rare species of fish and mussels.”
The Diggs tract was acquired with funds from the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the North American Wetland Conservation Act, and the Cole Foundation, with support from The Conservation Fund.
For more information on fishing, hunting and wildlife watching in North Carolina, visit www.ncwildlife.org.