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Premier smallmouth stream set to flow freely after removal of Kelly's Slab in Yellville

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kelly's Slab is coming down.

The concrete low-water bridge that crosses Crooked Creek in the Ozark Mountains is widely known among anglers as a premier spot to fish for smallmouth bass.

One Web site describes it as "the blue-ribbon smallmouth bass fishing stream of the state."

But the well-known slab near Yellville also is hurting the very fish population that attracts anglers.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission plans to remove a big chunk of the slab to allow Crooked Creek to flow the way nature intended, to the benefit of both fish and anglers.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has awarded a $250,000 contract to the Commission to remove the middle part of the slab, convert parts of the remaining structure to handicapped accessible fishing spots, rehabilitate the eroding stream banks and build a new bridge upstream from the current slab.

The new upstream bridge also will make it much safer and more reliable for school buses to be able to take students to the Fred Berry education center.

"Our own electrofishing and angler fishing surveys show that Crooked Creek is one of the best smallmouth bass streams in the country," said Steve Filipek, assistant chief of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Fisheries Division. "The problem with low-water bridges like this is that it is basically a dam with a few pipes through it," he said. "Crooked Creek is a 150-foot-wide stream being diverted through two culverts that are just a few feet across, and the water flows through those pipes super-fast when the creek is high.

"Many fish can't handle it. So for the fish to be able to move up and down Crooked Creek freely, part of Kelly's Slab has to come out," Filipek explained.

Although Crooked Creek is renowned mainly for its smallmouth bass, it's also home to an amazing 66 species of fish, several of which serve as food for the bass and are listed by Arkansas as Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

Being on this list means that the fish are in danger of becoming threatened or endangered if they are not protected or managed correctly.

The AGFC will remove the center section of the slab, about 60 feet across, which will allow Crooked Creek to flow freely.

The remaining slab sections on each bank will be converted to fishing spots that will be open to the public and will also meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

The Commission will repair parts of the creek banks that have eroded and build a new elevated span upstream from the current slab that will allow the public to cross, but will not interfere with the creek.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership are partners on the project.

The Recovery Act provides $280 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- which includes $115 million for construction, repair and energy efficiency retrofit projects at service facilities, and $165 million for habitat restoration, deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects.

Projects will help create local jobs in the communities where they are located and around the United States, while stimulating long-term employment and economic opportunities for the American public.

Recovery Act projects address long-standing priority needs identified by the service through its capital planning process.

The agency worked through a rigorous merit-based process to identify and prioritize investments meeting the criteria put forth in the Recovery Act: namely, that a project addresses the department's highest priority mission needs; generates the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time; and creates lasting value for the American public.

For a full list of funded projects nationwide, go to the department's recovery Web site at http://recovery.doi.gov/.

For a list of service projects, click on the service's logo at the bottom of the page or visit http://recovery.doi.gov/press/bureaus/us....

The public will be able to follow the progress of each project on the recovery Web site, which includes an interactive map that allows the public to track where and how the department's recovery dollars are being spent.

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