The first day of demolition on the Dillsboro Dam attracted hundreds of spectators last Wednesday.
A roadside pull-off overlooking the Tuckasegee afforded a bird’s eye view of the machinery chipping away at the dam below. Some vying for a spot arrived early and loitered all morning, while others double parked, jumped out and snapped a photo with their cell phone, then went on their way.
Many watching from the roadside were clearly disappointed with what they were witnessing.
“I don’t see no point in it,” said Jake Dills. “It wasn’t hurting nothing to let it stay like it was.”
Like so many who grew up in Jackson County, fishing downstream of the dam was a big part of Dills’ childhood.
The wide waters below the dam are known for exceptionally large fish. The dam blocked fish from swimming any further upstream, making it fertile ground for fishing.
It was also a place fishermen could call their own, free from rafters and kayakers. A stone’s throw further downstream is a major put-in for commercial rafting companies and a favorite launching point for paddlers. Once the dam is gone, Duke Energy has pledged to add more put-ins upstream of Dillsboro. Fishermen fear an encroachment by paddlers along a stretch they once had to themselves.
“It will mess everything up for the local people and fishermen,” said Dills. “I hate to see it go.”
Oscar Woodard, 66, said taking out the dam will ruin the fishing.
“There’s some big ones in there,” Woodard as he watched from the roadside. “It’s a sad time, but it’s progress, I guess.”
Some even lament the loss of the slow-moving backwater behind the dam. John Hall, 60, liked to kneeboard and water ski on the pseudo-lake behind the dam. He also fished in the deep waters behind the dam, and even trapped muskrat around it.
“I don’t like it one bit,” Hall said, as he watched equipment hammer a hole in the dam. “I can’t understand why they’re doing it. The local people won’t benefit.”
But some onlookers were more positive.
Two friends, Lauren Cress and Casey Smith, like floating down the river on rafts and inner tubes. With the dam gone, they will have more river to play on.
“I think it is a good day,” said Smith, 28. But Smith said he understands why a lot of the “old-timers” don’t feel that way.
A few onlookers, despite their personal convictions in support of keeping the dam, said it was about time that the county commissioners stopped fighting a losing battle against Duke at the expense of taxpayers and let demolition proceed.
The river through Dillsboro will be far narrower with the dam gone. The dam was 310 feet long, as was the river above and below it. The natural river will be just 50 feet wide. Many watching the demolition during those early hours had a hard time visualizing what such a drastically smaller river would look like.
“I am anxious to see what it looks like when they get done,” said Brandon Ashe, 33.