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Hydrologic Restoration of a Historic Pine Savanna Wetland at Moores Creek National Battlefield

By: Joel Wagner, Wetland Program Leader

Moores Creek National Battlefield is located in Pender County on the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina. The battlefield was established to commemorate the decisive 1776 Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, in which less than 1,000 Patriots defeated more than 1,600 Loyalist troops. In the 1920s, a pine savanna wetland at the battlefield was artificially drained and converted to a weed-dominated meadow. This degraded ecosystem represents not only the loss of historic context for the battle, but also a loss of one of the most floristically diverse and increasingly rare plant community types in temperate North America. However, despite drainage and other management activities, portions of the meadow still harbor relic populations of pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), state threatened species such as Carolina bog mint (Macbridea caroliniana), and other pine savanna species.

photo of a wet pine savanna after restoration efforts at Moores Creek National Battlefield

The NPS Water Resources Division, the North Carolina Heritage Program, and The Nature Conservancy are now working with park staff to restore the drained meadow back to a pine savanna wetland system. The park's objective is to reestablish the landscape that likely existed at the time of the battle, while preserving the rare native plant species still represented at the site.

In late 1996, WRD installed a hydrologic monitoring network to characterize water table fluctuations under the existing (disturbed) and future (restored) conditions. In 1998 an experimental hydrologic restoration was implemented. The experiment involved plugging a drainage ditch at a location that would simulate its removal. The existing monitoring wells were read throughout the course of the experiment. By the end of 2000, sufficient data existed to determine if plugging the ditch would restore wet pine savanna hydrologic conditions and to determine potential impacts on rare species.

Results of the experiment were published in "Hydrologic Restoration of a Wet Pine Savanna at Moores Creek National Battlefield, North Carolina" (Woods and Wagner, 2001). The study showed that plugging the ditch caused a statistically significant increase in water levels throughout most of the meadow, and that water levels now fluctuate in the same range as in nearby undisturbed pine savanna habitats. The majority of the upper and lower meadow areas could now support wet to mesic pine savanna communities (given the appropriate fire regime), while mesic to dry savanna conditions prevail on the margins of the meadow where water table depths are slightly lower.

The report includes "depth-duration curves" that describe pre- and post-restoration water table characteristics throughout the site. Maps showing areas with similar post-restoration hydrology are also presented. These maps and analyses will be used to guide future reintroduction of native bunchgrasses and other pine savanna species in habitats with appropriate hydrologic conditions. Recommendations are also provided for permanently eliminating artificial drainage and restoring pre-disturbance pine savanna hydrology at the park. Copies of the technical report can be obtained by contacting the author.

Reference: Woods, S.W. and J. Wagner. 2001. Hydrologic Restoration of a Wet Pine Savanna at Moores Creek National Battlefield, North Carolina. NPS Water Resources Division Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2001/293. Ft. Collins, CO. 49 pp.


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