Skip to main content


Workers use heavy machinery to position beams for the new Wolf Creek bridge

Trails for Trout

TVA and Partners Improve Waterways for Fish at Wolf Creek

Winding through 650,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee are numerous trout streams, waterfalls and world-class whitewater. 

Among them is Wolf Creek, a small mountain stream bordered by old, mossy rocks.

Where the creek meets the road, two culverts had blocked Tennessee’s only native trout species from parts of their habitat.

But that problem has been solved.

Today, a new structure stands in its place, providing open waterway access to the species that call the forest streams their home.

It’s the fruit of a collaboration among the Tennessee Valley Authority and its partners, including The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Trout Unlimited and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.

Breaking Barriers

The old Wolf Creek crossing, built in the 1970s, had been identified as an issue a decade ago.

The crossing featured culverts, or two metal pipes, originally installed to allow water to pass under the road. The culverts were too small to handle high water levels, however, and the road sometimes flooded.

The culverts were also perched, which means the downstream ends were above the water level. This kept fish from moving upstream.

“Culverts have a major impact on our local waterways by blocking species from moving throughout the stream and causing sediment to enter the system,” Jeff Wright, Southern Appalachians project manager of Trout Unlimited, said. “Replacing these crossings with structures that mimic nature better allows us to keep important infrastructure while also improving the forest’s health.”

Given its age, the structure was also at risk of collapse, which would have sent thousands of pounds of sediment into the stream.

“Had the structure collapsed and polluted the water, it would have impacted a lot of community members who use this water to swim, fish and drink somewhere downstream,” Wright said.

In 2019, a team at Cherokee National Forest worked with partnering organizations to develop plans for the new bridge at Wolf Creek. They finished the design in 2021 and construction ran from May to November 2022.

Brook Trout Boulevard

One of the species that calls Wolf Creek home is the brook trout, the only native trout species in Tennessee. The old crossing had limited their movement.

“There are a variety of threats to brook trout and aquatic biodiversity, including habitat degradation, loss of riparian shading, polluted stormwater runoff and habitat fragmentation,” Allison Williams, hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said. “Many of these problems are beyond what partnerships like ours can solve. However, we can solve aquatic habitat fragmentation one barrier at a time.”

Researchers have identified more than 9,200 barriers—dams, culverts and bridges, for example—that can hamper aquatic connectivity in the Tennessee River Basin and contribute to habitat fragmentation.

While Wolf Creek is small, it is a tributary of the French Broad River, which eventually leads to the Tennessee River.

“As a part of TVA’s Natural Resource Plan, we partner on projects like this to protect aquatic biodiversity and improve water quality,” Jessica Wykoff-Carpenter, TVA watershed representative, said. “We might not always think of the smaller streams when we’re talking about the Tennessee River watershed, but the health of these streams really impacts aquatic life in the larger watershed.”

With the bridge now installed, brook trout can make their way upstream to miles of great habitat.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency plans to monitor the area to determine how the trout are faring with the new bridge in place.

Photo Gallery

Workers on the new bridge that spans Wolf Creek

Team members from TVA and partnering organizations stand proudly at the Wolf Creek bridge

Team members involved in the Wolf Creek project stand at the new bridge

Workers use heavy machinery to maneuver a large segment of the Wolf Creek bridge during construction

A worker uses an excavator to position boulders at the Wolf Creek bridge site

An image of the Wolf Creek culverts

The new Wolf Creek bridge

Electric plug icon


Visit the TVA Natural Resource Plan to learn more about TVA’s water resources stewardship.

Share this story: