St. Croix River Data:Length: 62 miles
Rivers, Lakes, and Streams
|St. Croix Watershed
The St. Croix forms the eastern boundary between Maine and Canada. It has been heavily developed for electric power, reducing once prolific runs of anadromous fish. However, the river still claims the second largest Atlantic salmon run in the state.
The St. Croix, by Lee Sochasky
From source to sea, Maine and New Brunswick share the St. Croix, the longest stretch of freshwater US/Canada boundary east of
Autumn paddling on the St. Croix (photo: Lee Sochasky)
Physically, the St. Croix is the largest watershed between the Penobscot and Saint John systems. Covering some 1630 square miles, the system is Y-shaped. On one side lies the West Branch– which includes well-known waters like West Grand Lake and Grand Lake Stream–and beside it lies the East, or international branch, which includes East Grand, Spednic and other lakes, and the 30 mile section of backcountry river prized by canoeists. The two branches join at Grand Falls Flowage, descending another 18 miles to head-of-tide at Calais and then down an 16-mile estuary to Passamaquoddy Bay and the Gulf of Maine.
Within the watershed, glacial and volcanic features run at right angles to each other to create a highly diverse landscape that is a cross-section of Maine’s natural history. The estuary is split by a major undersea fault which creating upwellings reminiscent of a giant alka seltzer at some sites. Here also, tides rise and fall 25 feet twice each day to expose extensive clam flats and to surprise unsuspecting boaters. Upstream on the river, large marshlands feed tannin-colored waters into a boulder-ridden channel that challenges canoeists while supporting smallmouth bass, Atlantic salmon, a large breeding population of bald eagles and a variety of uncommon plants.
The boundary lakes offer unique signatures: near-wilderness Spednic, togue- and landlock-famous East Grand, with Mud Lake and its transit streams connecting the two. Further above is North Lake and then Monument Brook, winding in a deep, slow channel until it disappears into the ground at US/Canada international boundary marker #1. It’s here that the Maine border takes a straight line, across dry land and any map.
From the retreat of the last glaciers, the St. Croix was a highway and home for native peoples. Archeological remains record some aspects of early St. Croix life dating back over 6000 years. The upper St. Croix lakes carried early travelers between the Saint John and Penobscot River systems, with relatively short portages in between. While many native peoples used the area, the Passamaquoddy Tribe called it home and continue to do so today.
Plaque at St. Croix Island,placed in 1904 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the island’s settlement by the French.
Nearly 400 years ago the Europeans came to stay, intermittently at first and then in numbers that once doubled the watershed’s current population of 32,000. In 1604, the first governor of Acadia built his capital on St. Croix Island, ahead of the more famous Jamestown and Plymouth Rock colonies, in an step that would later mark this river as
Like most of Maine, the St. Croix valley was settled and used largely for lumbering, shipbuilding, milling and water power, but here with notable diversions into quarrying, railroading and tanning. Many of these industries still drive the local economy today.
The only serious water on the St. Croix boundary is the Class 4 Milltown rapids, in Calais. If you do the entire system, you’ll have to portage dams at the bottom of East Grand Lake, Grand Falls Flowage, Woodland Flowage and Milltown, plus Mud Lake Falls. Otherwise the system offers a variety of experiences on lakes which have striking
But the St. Croix is more than a river–it’s a water boundary between two nations. This creates special challenges to its management as a natural system and a working waterway.
Here are some of them:
While shoreland zoning is uncommon in Canada, New Brunswick has made innovative use of existing legislation to establish zoning
While New Brunswick currently lacks standards for surface water quality, it is on the verge of adopting a classification program almost identical to Maine’s. When enacted, this will enable the two governments to set common standards for their shared St. Croix waters–a high priority, locally.
Concurrently planning is well underway to build a Downeast Heritage Center on the Calais waterfront, also for 2004. This center will interpret many aspects of the region’s natural and cultural
While the St. Croix is one of Maine’s major Atlantic salmon rivers, it is excluded from federal endangered species programs because of its international status. It does, however, offer exceptional opportunities for salmon research and these are being advanced by various state, federal and Canadian agencies and local partners. Since 1993, this has included breeding and stocking activities to re-develop the St. Croix’s native salmon strain and to monitor fish returns to the river. In October 2000, over 800 adult Atlantic salmon of St. Croix and other Downeast river origin were released in the river to spawn naturally, to explore the potential for this stocking method, versus juvenile fish releases, to help restore Maine’s Atlantic salmon runs. This research will continue for the next 5-7 years.
Also, under the US/Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1908, certain aspects of St. Croix water resource management fall under international purview — notably for levels and flows and, to a lesser extent, quality — through an International Joint Commission established by the federal governments. The IJC has a St. Croix Board that advises it on local issues and hosts an annual meeting in the St. Croix Valley to receive public input. Twice in the last thirty years,the IJC has studied international water level management on the St. Croix in response to concerns by lake residents. Most recently (1995-1997) federal agencies carried out computer modelling for
The St. Croix: a river, a waterway connecting some of the state’s largest lakes, and an international boundary. It is definitely one of the state’s outstanding treasures and an integral part of our region’s identity. Come see and explore the St. Croix’s many aspects it for yourself.