Georgia Quarry constructs land bridges to protect endangered fish

Ball Ground Quarry works to help the Cherokee darter found on site

When visiting Ball Ground Quarry, it quickly becomes clear why the crew brags about the site’s beauty. 

The lush, scenic drive to the pit, the fresh Georgia air and the bright blue southern sky make for a picture-perfect postcard quarry experience. 

“When I first came to the site, I was immediately impressed,” said Plant Manager Will Dennis. “From the drive off the main road to the customer sites to the scale, and all the way around – it’s just amazing what our people can do. And it shows how much pride they have in this place.” 

This natural splendor may be just the reason why a different kind of visitor has taken home to Ball Ground Quarry. 

The Cherokee darter is a rare species of freshwater fish found on the quarry’s east side. 

When this species was discovered living on the property, environmental experts at Martin Marietta worked to ensure their aquatic friends received appropriate care. 

The fish is native to Georgia and inhabits creeks with rocky bottoms and little silt, typically found just above and below the stony part of a stream. 

Because of its small range and fragmented habitat, the International Union for Conservation of Nature designated the species as endangered. 

Despite its small stature, the Cherokee darter plays a significant role in Georgia’s waterway ecosystems as it controls plant populations within the northern portion of the Etowah River system. 

The Cherokee darter is a rare species of freshwater fish.

Once the fish was found in the same area of the plant where the crew was to begin moving overburden, a new plan was designed to allow the team to complete its work while respecting the Cherokee darter’s home. 

“Preserving the darter’s habitat was a particular focus because this fish is endangered,” said Will Rasmussen, a senior environmental engineer. “Completing this extensive work shows everyone – our customers, our investors and our industry – that this is an essential concern for us. Sustaining the environment is crucial for the health of our community, which means it is also crucial for our company.” 

Rasmussen said that constructing two land bridges became a priority for him and his team, with the main focus being to make as little a difference as possible to the natural landscape. This also had to be done while ensuring the moving of materials did not harm the wildlife before or after the bridges’ creation. Made to allow easy access to the opposite side of the quarry and to be highly durable, each bridge is half-cylindrical with rock and soil placed on the half culvert and sides. 

Bridge construction lasted about six months and consisted of driving metal sheets away from the stream’s edge and then creating a footing within the excavated material on the opposite side of the creek. This was to ensure that no impact struck the bank side’s natural landscape. 

Rasmussen said devoting significant resources in order to complete projects with important environmental benefits is nothing new for Martin Marietta. 

“Usually, for our quarries, the end goal is to turn our pits into large reservoirs of water or lakes. This reclamation is a massive benefit to any ecosystem in the area. It becomes a wetland. It becomes a source for migratory birds. It becomes another habitat for fish in the area. We always try to leave behind a strong legacy of improvement,” he said. 

Now complete, the project is yet another source of pride for the Ball Ground team, adding to its already extensive list of bragging points. 

“It’s part of what we do,” Dennis said. “It’s our job to make sure we leave our environment just as good, if not better, than where it started.”