April's Featured River:   

Presumpscot Estuary photo   
(Photo: Ed Geis)    

The Native Americans named the river the Presumpscot, meaning the “river of many falls.” Indeed, it was once an appropriate name: Wescott's Falls, Great Falls, Whitney's Falls, Island Falls, Dundee Falls, Leavitt's Falls, Gambo Falls, Little Falls, Mallison Falls, Saccarappa Falls, Ammonscongin Falls, and Presumpscot Falls all claimed the river as their home in the 1600s. Where are these falls now? Read on.

The river has changed dramatically since Europeans arrived and began developing industries along the Presumpscot's banks. Perhaps the Native Americans would have renamed the river “river of much sludge, pollution and foam” as detritus from saw mills, paper mill effluent, town sewage and the like poured into the waters that once teemed with salmon and other fish.

At its worst, the Presumpscot became so polluted that there was no measurable oxygen in the river at all. The water resembled a “root beer float” and was considered dead. Abandoned by all who lived nearby, its only value was its use as a cheap and convenient place to dump waste. Today the river is cleaner, but still remains one of the more polluted rivers in Maine.

dam photo
(Photo: Dusti Faucher)

With ten dams dotting its 25-mile length, perhaps the Natives would also have named it the “river of many dams.” Most of the natural falls from which the river takes its name have long been submerged or harnessed for hydroelectric power.

Perhaps this characterization of the Presumpscot is too harsh--after all, the river is much improved. It from its origins in Sebago Lake to its mouth at the estuary where it meets Casco Bay, the Presumpscot offers remarkable natural beauty. Canoeing on the upper stretches is a treat, and many forms of wildlife thrive along the river. The wetlands along the estuary are a favorite stopping ground for countless species of migratory birds. With Smelt Hill dam scheduled to be removed in 2001 and the water quality improving, perhaps the Natives might have named it “river of hope"--hope for a new beginning and new uses of this river, uses that benefit all of the public. 

Read a "Presumpscot Overview" by Helen Chabot of the Presumpscot River Watch.

See latest news story on the Presumpscot's listing as an "Endangered River"

Check out some history of Presumpscot waterfalls.

To learn more about the Presumpscot River and what you can do to help continue its recovery, contact these organizations:

Presumpscot River Watch

Friends of the Presumpscot

Casco Bay Estuary Project

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