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New River 'icebergs' break loose, cause damage

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

A campground and several fishing areas have been destroyed along the New River after enormous pieces of ice broke apart and drifted downstream early this week.

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New River Trail State Park rangers are blaming the destruction on wildly shifting temperatures, mixed with near record snowfall last month.

The area saw anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of snow in December, followed by single digit temperatures for several weeks.

Last week the weather finally broke, temperatures hit the mid-50s and a few inches of rain fell over the weekend, cracking the ice sending huge chunks shooting over roads and into the banks of the river.

James Meadows, maintenance supervisor for the New River Tail State Park, took The Gazette on a tour of the damage Tuesday morning.

Cutting on the trail just past the Low Water Bridge on Fries Road, the ice is barely seen.

Moving down the river, the banks begin to look like a scene straight from a movie.

Ice is piled an estimated 15 to 20 feet high where campgrounds and fishing pods once stood. In some cases, the ice is built up on top of the river, actually preventing the water from flowing through channels.

Park rangers were out Tuesday morning surveying the damage near the trail's Fries Junction.

Pulling up to the former site of Double Shoals Campground, a mangled mess of tables, poles and grills can be seen among the icy debris.

What once was an honor system campground with six primitive sites is now the resting place of several feet of icebergs and a few dead fish.

Meadows points out where the sites used to be, but is simply amazed at the destruction.

Later on, Assistant Park Ranger Jimmy Elliot arrives on scene.

"The campground is totally gone," Elliot said of the site that once featured picnic tables, lamp posts and grills. "We weren't expecting this much damage."

With the campsite destroyed, Elliot said that it and several fishing pods will remain closed indefinitely.

Basically, the crews will have to wait until the ice melts and survey the damage below.

While they know the extent of materials that were at each site, it won't be known how much damage the ground itself has sustained until the ice is gone. They will have to determine later if the site can even be rebuilt where it once stood.

Elliot added that while something like this tends to attract people wanting to take pictures, they should use caution.

"We would encourage people to please stay off the ice," he said. "There are all kinds of holes and someone could get hurt very easily."

The ice also took out camping sites and a few roads further upstream from Fries Junction.

Photos submitted to The Gazette by Terri and Bobby Nichols show a pickup truck stranded on Cold Springs Lane in the Baywood community of Grayson County.

Terri said the truck was apparently parked near the river and, as the large chunks of ice began to flow downstream, they were thrown over the banks and into the roadway.

The Virginia Department of Transportation was called in to help clear the roadway.

Cold Springs wasn't the only road affected, as calls to The Gazette also spoke of blocked roads and stranded homeowners on Pattons Mill Lane near Fries.

Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan said his department assisted with traffic control at a few locations until VDOT arrived on scene.

VDOT Spokeswoman Michelle Earl told The Gazette that crews have been working on breaking up the ice and clearing the affected roadways.

"It appears some creeks and streams rose following the heavy rains this weekend and chunks/blocks of ice that had previously formed in those streams spilled onto the roadways in areas of Grayson County,"

The ice also affected Appalachian Power dams along the river.

According to a press release issued Monday, the power company had to modify operations at its hydroelectric project in Carroll County.

As the large pieces of ice flowed over and through the four dams within the Byllesby and Buck Hydroelectric Project, several of the company's flashboards were knocked out.

AEP Spokesman John Shepelwich explained to The Gazette that these boards are removable pieces that can be added or removed to adjust the flow of water through the dam.

As a result, water levels in the reservoirs behind Byllesby and Buck dams will be lowered by six to eight feet for an extended period of time, said Shepelwich.

He added that when the ice began flowing, the company removed additional flashboards to help move the blocks through the project and down the river.

Shepelwich said it would take about two weeks of good weather to replace the reservoirs to their normal level.

Because of the weather, the company went into its lowest level on the emergency action plan, which he explained is a situation that could create some flooding downstream.

As a result, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for that area.

Although a few flashboards were damaged, Shepelwich said, "the dams are intact and everything is structurally fine."

For more photos of The Gazette's tour of the damage, check out the slide show on our homepage (www.galaxgazette.com) .