Monday, September 13, 2010

'Happy Wanderers' greet visitors to Lick Run trail

Q: Have you noticed the two wooden statues that are at the Target/Staples exit that takes you to [Interstate] 581 south? Do you know who made them and how I can get in touch with them? I would love to have a similar one.

Kathy Patterson, Boones Mill

A: The two wooden figures make up a sculpture called "Happy Wanderers," and they're the work of artist Charlie Brouwer, who has a studio in Floyd County.

"Happy Wanderers started with a 'hike' around the yard with a grandson," he explained in an e-mail. "We each had a walking stick and I started signing a song I learned in grade school 'I love to go a wandering...' when I got to the chorus Alex joined in 'Val-deri! Val-dera! Val-deri! Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!' The song is titled 'The Happy Wanderer.' "

The resulting work of art seems like a perfect fit for that spot along Valley View Boulevard, which is the entrance to the Lick Run Greenway trail. Another figural sculpture is visible on Wilson Avenue near Blacksburg's Wong Park, outside Miller Off Main Street art gallery.

One of Brouwer's most recent projects is rather larger than these Roanoke wooden folks. In St. Louis, he has been working with a church to create a huge sculpture. Congregation members brought their ladders to the church grounds and they've been assembled into ... well, you may have to see it for yourself at the project website transcend2010.org.

If you're interested in owning one of Brouwer's sculptures, you can start with a visit to his website, charliebrouwer.com. From there you may wish to make an appointment to visit his studio.

Q: Why were these low-head dams, which are now causing safety problems, built in the first place?

Rebecca Wright, Roanoke

A: Yes, we have had some real problems from these dams, which have caused the drowning deaths of several people in the area recently.

The turbulent water at the base of the dam can be especially dangerous, trapping victims underwater.

Today it would seem crazy to create such a potentially fatal hazard on a river, but in the past there were a lot of reasons to build low-head dams.

Penny Schmitt, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, pointed to sawmills, gristmills and private power generation. Or, they may have simply been built to create a water reservoir.

"Removing such dams is very much desired by many in the environmental community to restore the more natural run of the river and allow the movement of species, particularly anadromous fish, up river for spawning. Anadromous fish are those that live part of their life cycle in the ocean, but return to freshwater streams for spawning and the early life stage," she wrote. "In North Carolina and Virginia, American white shad, hickory shad, short nose sturgeon, alewife and striped bass are also important fisheries that follow this pattern."

But not everyone is ready to get rid of the dams.

"One person's unnatural obstruction can be another's desirable natural seeming feature," Schmitt told me. "Low-head dams provide attractive backwater with a reliable pool to help maintain downstream flows. The Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River ... is a candidate for removal, but local nature lovers, kayakers and fishermen have objected to the removal of that dam because of their concern about loss of a natural-like pool that has developed upstream over the many years this small dam has been in place."

Got a question? Got an answer? Call Tom Angleberger at 777-6476 or send an e-mail to tomangleberger@yahoo.com. Don't forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown.

Look for Tom Angleberger's column on Mondays.

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