skip navigation

Knee Deep in the Narraguagus River

Stories from the Coast

Knee Deep in the Narraguagus River

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

River Drive, First Machias River, 1948, Forest History Society

For over 150 years loggers manipulated Maine’s watery highways—that is, our rivers. To help move logs to market, loggers straightened channels and altered the depth, breadth, and flow along hundreds of miles of Maine rivers. The end result is straighter rivers with less quality habitat for native fish.

Now, bit by bit, individuals, towns, and organizations are coming together to help restore Maine’s rivers.

Among other things, restoring rivers means undoing the damage of the past. In some places that means removing barriers to encourage the flow of water and the ability of sea-run fish to migrate from the ocean to the upper reaches of Maine’s rivers and back again. In other places this means encouraging new channels and pools where cold-water fish can find refuge from the summer heat.

Alewives

These fish play an out-sized role in Maine’s food chain. When they’re numerous, other Maine fish, birds, and mammals thrive, too.

Oftentimes, river restoration projects take many years and involve lots of partners and heavy equipment. And then there are those smaller projects in hard-to-reach places that are difficult to get funding for…

MCHT staff tackles a special project

Maine Coast Heritage Trust land protection staff heard about such a project on the Narraguagus River from partners at Project SHARE (Salmon Habitat and River Enhancement).

Betsy Ham, MCHT’s Director of Land Protection was looking for a team-building opportunity for MCHT staff.

Let’s just say it was a match made in Maine woods heaven!

The problem

See that impoundment? Looks peaceful, right?

Impoundment in the Narraguagus River

Well, it’s not great habitat for native cold-water fish, like salmon and brook trout. On this half-mile stretch of the Narraguagus River, the remnants of an old dam restrict the river’s flow. Salmon and brook trout are drift feeders. They need cool, moving water. For them, “no flow” means “no dinner.”  

The solution (or the start of it)

On a gray, muggy day in September of 2018, three SHARE employees brought 12 MCHT staffers into the woods with boots, gloves, picks, rock bars, and grip hoists. The aim? To pick a whole lot of rocks out of the river bed.

The crew focused its attention on a corridor about four feet wide and fifty feet long, essentially digging a “v” about two-feet deep to increase water flow.

After six hours, the current was markedly faster, and the water level in the impoundment had gone down by two inches—re-opening native fish habitat that had been impaired for over a hundred years.

That extra flow means cooler water and more food for salmon downstream. How cool is that!?

Progress comes slowly, but it comes. That day in the river was proof!  

There’s the group, soaking wet and smiling ear-to-ear after a day spent doing good work outside with good people.  

One more thing… Aren’t you a land conservation organization? Why rivers?

Yes, Maine Coast Heritage Trust is a land conservation organization. But we understand that what’s good for Maine’s coastal rivers is good for Maine’s coast—they’re not mutually exclusive.

That’s why MCHT launched the Rivers Initiative to help connect coastal rivers to the sea, improve fish passage and the quality of the land along the shore, create more recreational opportunities, restore ecosystems critical to the sustainability of Maine’s fishing industry… the list of benefits is long.

Learn more about MCHT’s Rivers Initiative.

More stories from People Make it Possible

Harvesters Step Up for Conservation

Harvesters Step Up for Conservation

Conservation of Woodward Point protects shore access and water quality for clammers and oyster growers Read more
Farming from Tanzania to Maine

Farming from Tanzania to Maine

MCHT Teen Ag crew member tells of her experience growing food for her community at Erickson Fields Preserve Read more