The 320-square mile watershed contains more than 30 lakes and ponds and about 55 miles of streams. The West Branch, which enters in Whitefield,
Major streams enter the river here, the Dyer River in Sheepscot Village and the Marsh River and Deer Meadow Brook just above Wiscasset. The Marsh River/Deer Meadow Marsh complex is a highly productive brackish marsh system (rare in Maine) that harbors many threatened and endangered species.
In the spring, canoes and kayaks blossom with the first wildflowers. As the river races to the ocean, full with the melting snow, excellent rapids appear,
(Photo by Sheepscot River Watershed Council)
Life thrives in the river’s rich tidal mud flats, which support rare mussels and plant species. Fish and invertebrates attract osprey, eagles and other mammals that feast on the river’s bounty. Its forested banks provide habitat for moose, white-tailed deer, and many other creatures.
The Sheepscot is one of the last remaining rivers with remnant populations of the nearly extinct native Atlantic salmon. These and other anadromous fish such as striped bass, shad, alewife and eel, return from the sea to spawn in the river’s clean gravel bottom before migrating back to the ocean.
Although much of the Sheepscot River has the state’s highest water quality rating and the upper portions are relatively pristine, the watershed nevertheless faces a variety of problems. These include high nutrient loadings, sediment from eroding
For over 35 years, the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association has amassed a record of committed stewardship through its efforts to conserve the natural and historic resources of the watershed. The Association currently has several major programs underway to address the river’s problems and preserve its assets.
The SVCA is both a traditional land trust and a river advocacy group. As a land trust, the Association
|The Bass Falls Preserve in Alna was purchased in 1998 with assistance from National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Land for Maine’s Future, the Sweetwater Trust and the Grand Circle Foundation. The SVCA recently purchased an additional 36 acres abutting the preserve, more than doubling its size. Hiking trails lead through mixed forestlands to the Sheepscot River and an old fishing camp.
The Whitefield Salmon Preserve is located at the confluence of the West Branch and the Main Stem of the Sheepscot. Several miles of trails wind through 56 acres of pine forest and along the river. This property fronts along some of the finest salmon spawning and rearing grounds in the river and a holding pool well known by local fishermen.
The SVCA is actively working to protect the Forever Wild Corridor, a three-mile stretch of river from Alna Head Tide to Sheepscot Village. Only three houses are visible from the river in this entire stretch. But since
As an advocate for the Sheepscot River, the SVCA has been an active participant in developments affecting the river. From the design and installation
As a founding member of the Sheepscot River Watershed Council, the SVCA has worked to
With funds provided by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Atlantic Salmon Commission, the SVCA is working with private landowners, the Watershed Council and state and federal agencies to restore these sites and to identify and protect riverside land adjacent to critical salmon spawning and nursery habitat.
On Earth Day, 2000, over 200 volunteers planted native shrubs (purchased with funds from the Atlantic Salmon Commission) on the riverbanks at the
(Photo by Sheepscot River Watershed Council)
In 1999, the SVCA created its Geographic Information System (GIS) Support Center to provide
Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association
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Kennebec River: Unfinished Business
The single most important and far-reaching environmental, economic and sociological issue in the Kennebec River Valley is the current status of the program to restore native sea-run fish to a portion of the waters that they inhabited 500 years ago. The first European explorers who sailed through the Gulf of Maine were amazed by the wildlife which inhabited its fertile waters and the great rivers which flow into it. Early explorers such as Sebastian Cabot, Jacques Cartier, John Smith and Samuel de Champlain reported an abundance of whales and marine mammals and schools of valuable fish that dwarfed the resources of the European side of the Atlantic.
The Kennebec River and its tributaries hosted enormous runs of fish whose life cycle includes living part of their lives in fresh water and part in the ocean. Species include Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewives, blueback herring, striped bass, Atlantic and short-nosed sturgeon and American eel.
It didn’t take the Europeans long to exploit those resources. The settlers promptly set about “improving’’ the environment which they found. They cleared forests, drained wetlands, dammed streams to build water-powered mills, dumped their mill wastes into the nearest body of flowing water, and harvested anadromous fish such as shad and alewives for use as fertilizer for their crops. They harvested Atlantic salmon, sturgeon and striped bass for commercial export as if there were no tomorrow.
It took a while for these activities to have an observable impact. But in time the effect on formerly abundant resources became obvious. The result was first to diminish and then to destroy the resources that had so impressed the early explorers. The first casualties were the whales, followed by the loss of the once-great runs of Atlantic salmon and alewives. By the turn of the 19th century, a scant 200 years after initial contact, the existence of these resources had become only a fast-fading memory.
The triple whammy of water pollution, over-harvesting and the construction of impassable dams was the death knell for the formerly vast runs of fish that had occupied the Kennebec River.
None of this went unnoticed. Historical records are filled with pleas to government from citizens who fully understood the destruction which was going on, and what it was doing to the resources upon which they relied in order to survive, and what the implications were for the future. By and large, these pleas went unheeded, because for every such citizen, there was another who stood to gain in the short term from the exploitation of natural resources, and those were the people with political power.
Things got very bad before they began to get better. After the Second World War the new era began. The United States had become the greatest economic power that the world had ever seen. At the same time the costs in terms of destruction of native wildlife, destruction of habitat, fouling the once-sweet waters of rivers, lakes and the sea itself, fouling the air which all must breathe, and adding poisons to the environment became so bad that something needed to be done. The tide began to turn with the adoption of laws and regulations to reverse the harm and chart a path to a more wholesome environment for the benefit of human beings and wildlife alike.
For almost 50 years state and federal agencies have been working to restore native anadromous fish to their former habitat in the Kennebec. Milestones were removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow in 2008. A great deal has been accomplished in the last two decades, but there are still many problems to be resolved.
The 2013 river herring run on the Kennebec River and its major tributary, the Sebasticook, exceeded 2,000,000 of these small native fish that passed through the fishway at Benton Falls, headed for their historic spawning grounds in Unity Pond, Sebasticook Lake and other lakes in the East Branch of the Sebasticook River watershed. Add to this the number of fish taken for lobster bait, and those which have ascended other tributaries such as Seven Mile Stream, and it seems probable that almost 3,000,000 river herring swam from the Gulf of Maine into the Kennebec River system to complete their reproductive cycle after spending four years at sea.
This is by far the largest run of river herring on the entire Eastern Seaboard. The role of the alewife is to be eaten. They are critical as a forage base for almost every species of creature which preys on fish, ranging from otters to eagles, from striped bass through cod and haddock to tuna and mighty whales. It is no accident that there has been excellent sport fishing for striped bass in the Kennebec and lower Sebasticook Rivers this year – the bass simply followed the alewives, a favorite prey species.
Considering that less than two decades ago there were no alewives in the Sebasticook River, it becomes clear that this is an unparalleled success story. We can be grateful to the dedicated scientists and managers at the Maine Department of Marine Resources for their unflagging zeal during half a century in working to make it happen.
The removal of the Edwards Dam and the Fort Halifax Dam at the mouth of the Sebasticook laid the foundation for the present run. Yet there remains more to be done. The potential is for an alewife run more than double the size of this year’s run. There are opportunities for alewives to access other lakes in the Kennebec River Watershed that have been obvious for years, but languished because of impassable dams.
There are three impassable dams on Cobbossee Stream and six more on the outlet to China Lake, which enters the Sebasticook just above its confluence with the Kennebec. Preliminary exploratory efforts are currently underway to address passage at these barriers.
On the Sebasticook East Branch, alewives could ascend all the way to Wassookeag Lake in Dexter, but remain blocked by an impassable dam in Corinna. Access to the large lakes of the West Branch (Great Moose, Mainstream Pond, Big Indian Lake, Little Indian Pond and Ripley Pond) is blocked by two dams in Pittsfield and one in Hartland with no fish passage.
Success builds on success. Restoration of alewives in the Kennebec River could have a tremendous positive environmental, economic and sociological impact resonating from improved recreational fisheries of the headwater lakes to restoration of historic commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Maine. Those fisheries have collapsed, but could once again prosper with a strong base of forage fish for cod and haddock.
For other species of river herring, such as American shad, the figures are much lower, and the prognosis is troubling. Shad appear in numbers in the Kennebec River in Waterville and Winslow, where they support a recreational fishery. However, only a few get further upstream. Shad are notoriously shy of fishways, and refuse to enter the fish passage facility at the Lockwood Dam on the Kennebec Main Stem. Only a few have passed through the Benton Falls Dam on the Sebasticook River. Because the numbers of shad are a critical ‘trigger’ element in the time tables for installation of upstream and downstream passage at dams further upriver, this presents a major problem which must be addressed by the dam owners and fishery agencies.
The pre-European run of Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River has been estimated at 70,000 fish. Early in the settlement of Maine, a net fishery for Atlantic salmon was established in the lower Kennebec. Thousands of fish were netted daily during the runs. Shiploads were exported to Europe. Even before the end of the 18th century observers expressed concern at declining harvests. By the time Maine became an independent state in 1820, the Atlantic salmon which had so impressed the first explorers were almost gone from the Kennebec.
The final nail was driven into the coffin when the Edwards Dam was built in Augusta in 1837. The charter provided that there should be passage for migratory fish, but after the first fishway was destroyed in a freshet, it was not replaced and the obligation was ignored. By the middle of the 19th century, the only Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River system were a tiny relict population in minor tributaries below the Edwards Dam. A vast resource had been destroyed by greed and indifference, and insult was added to injury as even its memory faded away to nothing.
The removal of the Edwards Dam in 1999 poses an opportunity to bring back Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River., There is the potential for restoring a self-sustaining breeding population, albeit greatly diminished from the runs which existed 500 years ago.
The two major tributaries of the Kennebec with high quality cold-water spawning and rearing habitat for Atlantic salmon are the Sandy River entering at Madison, and the Carrabassett River entering at North Anson. Both rise in the hills in the northwestern corner of the Kennebec River Basin. They are capable of supporting a self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon. The Maine Department of Marine Resources has a program to restore them in those waters.
However, four hydro-electric dams on the main stem of the Kennebec River below the mouth of the Sandy River pose a major problem.. These are the Lockwood Dam, the Hydro-Kennebec Dam, the Shawmut Dam and the Weston Dam. There are two more dams, Anson and Abnaki, in Madison on the main stem below the mouth of the Carrabassett River.
Only the Lockwood Dam has even interim upstream fish passage, and none have properly engineered downstream fish passage. There are major concerns about the effectiveness of the recently-installed upstream fish passage at Lockwood.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources has developed an ingenious method of planting fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs (obtained from hatchery fish) in the river gravel in a manner which closely mimics the ‘redds’ (nests) created by adult spawning females. In addition, the Department has captured returning adult Atlantic salmon that were born in the Sandy River, succeeded in migrating downstream past all four dams to the Atlantic Ocean, grew to maturity and returned to the capture site at Lockwood. They were transported more than 50 miles by truck back to the Sandy River, and released in the expectation that ‘boy will meet girl’ and nature will take its course.
There are shadows looming over this activity. Funding for the Department of Marine Resources has suffered in the budget wars. There is also the potential that fertilized eggs will cease to be available for planting.
Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River were designated as an Endangered Species in 2008. This has placed another layer of regulatory process over the restoration program, because the dam owner, Brookfield White Pine Energy LLC, is obligated to take measures to minimize the risk to Atlantic salmon caused by the existence of its dams, and to develop a Species Protection Plan which will ensure the survival of Atlantic salmon by minimizing ‘incidental take’ of Atlantic salmon, whether by mis-adventure in migrating upstream, or by injury or death from passage through turbines or over steep dam faces or rocks while migrating downstream as juveniles.
There are four actions which should be undertaken in the next decade which could realize the potential of the Kennebec River and its tributaries, the Sebasticook, Sandy and Carrabasset Rivers, once more to serve as the host for species of fish which spend a portion of their lives in fresh water and a portion in the ocean, including Atlantic salmon, American shad, alewives and blueback herring.
1. River herring: Fishery agencies should use the authority which they have under federal and state law to require the installation of fish passage at the currently impassable dams on Cobbossee Stream, China Lake Outlet and the West Branch of the Sebasticook River. This would provide access to many lakes and ponds which at one time afforded substantial spawning habitat for alewives. The consequence would be to realize a run of alewives in the Kennebec River and its tributaries which could amount to as many as 6,000,000 of these forage fish annually, with benefits to the entire Gulf of Maine eco-system.
2. Dam Removal to Benefit Atlantic salmon. As part of the current effort to gain the greatest possible protection for endangered Atlantic salmon, at least two of the existing dams on the main stem of the Kennebec River should be removed. This would create a system in which Atlantic salmon migrating downstream from the Sandy River as juveniles or migrating upstream as adults would need only to get past two dams. Those migrating downstream or upstream from the Carrabassett River would only need to pass through four dams. Candidates for dam removal are the Lockwood Dam and the Shawmut Dam. This would leave only the Hydro-Kennebec Dam in Waterville and the Weston Dam in Skowhegan, still formidable barriers, below the Sandy River and the Anson-Abnaki Dams in Madison below the Carrabassett River.
3. Brood Stock Program. A brood stock program should be established for the Atlantic salmon “Salmon Habitat Recovery Unit” (SHRU) which includes the Kennebec River, the Androscoggin River, the Sheepscot River and other smaller coastal rivers. The existing federal hatcheries at Green Lake and Craig Brook are currently operating at capacity. Their output is needed for the Downeast Rivers of Washington County and the Penobscot River.
Hatcheries are not a substitute for natural reproduction, but the low numbers of Atlantic salmon in the Kennebec River deserve a ‘kick-start’. There are many locations at which a brood stock program could be established at a relatively low cost. Construction and operation of the hatchery should be funded by the owners of the dams whose existence makes a hatchery necessary.
4.Funding for Anadromous Fish Restoration. The water of Maine’s rivers is a public asset. For more than two centuries, dam owners have made use of this public resource for private benefit, with detrimental effects on the environment, but with little compensation to the public for the loss to fisheries which their activities have caused.
It is long past time that the dam owners should shoulder the responsibility for undoing the harm to the public interest which their dams create. The dam owners should pay a royalty to government which would be held in a dedicated fund to support the efforts of the fishery agencies to restore anadromous fish to at least a portion of the habitat which existed at the time of first European settlement in New England 500 years ago.
If these measures are put in place, then there is hope for the future: A once-great river system which has been destroyed as a functioning eco-system by centuries of greed and neglect can once more take its rightful place in the ecologically, economically and sociologically vibrant community that the State of Maine should be.
Clinton B. “Bill” Townsend has practiced law in Skowhegan, Maine for more than 50 years. He is a past president and current board member of Maine Rivers, and served as a United States Commissioner to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization.
St. John River
St. John River (photo NRCM)
May 12-17, 2000
Greatest concern about the trip (other than food) is water levels. I would like to paddle from Fourth St. John Pond if there is enough water and if we can get there. Most folks fly in, I don’t know if we can drive in.
Allagash Guide Service, Sean Lizotte is going to bring our vehicles to Allagash for us this year. It will save time on the other end and get us home at a
I paddled the Royal River from Brown’s Crossing yesterday- 1.5 hours- just enough water to get through. It’s a great run with continuous class
May 12, Fifth St. John Pond
It was nice to feel the force of the river on my paddle again, and the warmth of the spring sun on my face. The marvelous song of the common loon – echoing off the forested hillsides – greeted us as we paddled into Fifth St. John Pond.
Interesting and unplanned challenges for me this year, this week. Recovering from an emergency appendectomy not 5 full days ago, I am paddling tandem and conservatively. The first question I had for my surgeon as I lay in the ER was, “Can
May 13, Turner Bogan
Very few obstructions in the river. A large white birch tree crosses the river about ¼ mile from the old dam on Fifth. We dragged over it on river right (last year we paddled under on river left). Cedar trees
A great day!
We made camp early today at Doucie Brook – a high embankment that catches most of the afternoon sun and is graced with some of the nicest white pines on the river. Historically, white pine was the crème de la crème of trees in the North Woods. According to Helen Hamlin, author of Nine Mile Bridge, red spruce took a back seat to the majestic pine in the early part of the20th century. I don’t know what percent of the harvest is currently white pine in the region, but judging by what one can see from the river, it is little to not existent. The forest surrounding this part of the St. John appears bedraggled. Cut hard right to the legal maximum. Few trees of any size. A swim for Blake, Matthew and Karin, kicking back for others.
Shooting for Seven Islands tomorrow. The sky is brilliantly clear and we are nearing the full moon.
|May 15, Seven Islands
Dusk, overcast with a scattered shower. No wind and a fabulous
Roughly 35 miles on river today. Passed Garrett and Alexandra Conover at Morrison Depot. Once again, strong current and gentle tail wind. A perfect combination.
]Dorcas prepared] a fabulous stew followed by a mince meat pudding for dessert. After supper, several of us took a walk to a beaver flowage behind camp. Couldn’t raise a trout, but fished a beautiful pond
]Healing from the surgery] seems to be going strong. It does not seem to effect my paddling much (only slightly on the draws and back strokes). But I still feel a twinge of pain getting in and out of my tent.
Tomorrow we hope to fish around here in the AM and camp below Big Black in order that we have a short river day on Wedneday.
Group is strong and spirits are high. Too dark to write any more and the woodcock are dancing.
May 16, Long Rapids
Clear and cold – the first ice of the week last night. Very dry air, with little, if any, dew. Matthew and I broke camp shortly after our granola pancake and coffee feed and spent a couple of hours in the bogan on the east shore below camp. We saw some trout move around as we slowly worked our way up the stream – over several small beaver dams and through the alders. Always enough water to paddle and many good holes for trout. We poled right past a deer as it stood gracefully on the shore and watched mallards and wood ducks surge from the backwaters as we moved through. We danced with the solitary and spotted sandpipers as we moved deeper and deeper into the heart of the woods – a place that most people do not get to. We eventually came to a large meadow that was obviously a beaver impoundment in the past. The trout, I can only imagine, were large and plentiful when the beaver were active. A mature bald eagle bid us farewell as we re-joined the main river. We can call this the Eagle Bogan.
30+ miles again today and again, they were virtually effortless. Matthew and I are both feeling strong today and our endurance seemed limitless. It was a relaxing day on the river. Tonight we camp at Long Rapids. Still maintaining a SW wind and scattered clouds with a few fair weather showers moving around, but none enough to cause us to
Tonight we sleep by the mighty St. John as if flows on toward the sea. Nothing sooth one’s soul better than the song of a living river.
May 17, Above Big Black Rapids
We all moved slowly our last day in camp, each hoping that our deliberate actions will somehow keep us from re-entering our other lives -lives with work, schedules, bills and meetings. We sat on the high bank overlooking the mist-covered river and took in the warm morning sun and drank coffee in silence. It was then that a spiral of mist- a miniature whirlwind – rose up from the river in front of us and danced. I have never seen such a site. Just as it came from the river silently, it also returned and was gone. We packed up camp and headed down river.
At the head of Big Black Rapids, our journey nears its end. The next journey begins.
The weather is again warm< and sunny. Water level is around 8,000 CFS. Fair skies, high water with good friends, old and new. How wealthy I am.
Rivers and Streams in the Central
Central Coastal Watershed
These rivers along the central coast of Maine are relatively short and drain much less of an area than the northern rivers. Several, like the Sheepscot and Ducktrap, still support small runs of anadromous fish.
Georges River Land Trust
Pemaquid Watershed Association
290 US 1
Edgecomb, ME 04556
Maine’s Watershed Regions
Rivers and Streams in Depth:
Surf Your Watershed
Maine River Stages
and Flow Data
Life in Maine’s Lakes & Rivers: Our Diverse Aquatic Heritage, 2008
Flood of April 2007 in Southern Maine, 2009