Croix River Basin Cooperative Hydrologic
E Musquash Lake
Grand Falls Flowage
Little Musquash Stream
Little Tomah Stream
St Croix River
W. Musquash Lake
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.
When is a river more than a river? When it’s also an international
Maine and New Brunswick
share the St. Croix, the longest stretch
of freshwater US/Canada boundary east of
the Great Lakes. It is a waterway full of
the unexpected and the unspoiled, maintained
by the good will of those on both shores.
Here’s a small part of its story…
Autumn paddling on the St.
Croix (photo: Lee Sochasky)
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.
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.
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.
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.
placed in 1904 to
commemorate the 300th anniversary of the
island's settlement by the French
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
a boundary between colonies and, ultimately, nations.
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 St. Croix system is famous for
both its fishing and canoeing, with an endless
list of lake and river trips for the taking.
For the boundary waters there’s a useful
waterproof map to the system that identifies
accesses, campsites, etc. but the USGS topo
maps and even road maps serve many.
Chiputneticook Lakes – North Lake to Spednic Lake (3 days)
Spednic Lake –transit or circle route (one day or many)
Vanceboro to Little Falls (1/2 day), Vanceboro to Loon Bay (1-3
Vanceboro to Kellyland/Grand Falls (3-5 days)
Woodland to Baring or Calais (1/2 day)
North Lake to Calais, 90 miles (7-10 days)
circle routes on Junior/Scraggly Lakes, Grand Lake Stream to Kellyland
Day excursions around St. Croix Island, Navy Island or Oak Bay
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
geography and a river run that intersperses easy rips with slow
waters along a winding course. Don’t take my word for it--try
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:
In spite of major differences in land and water management laws,
Maine and New Brunswick are making a concerted effort to achieve
comparable standards on the St. Croix, often by creative means.
is uncommon in Canada,
New Brunswick has made innovative use of
existing legislation to establish zoning
for the St. Croix only, in parallel to Maine’s
current protection of the boundary corridor.
Over the last ten years, these governments
have also cooperated in protecting a 45 mile
section of the system known widely for its
backcountry recreation and resource values:
the Spednic Lake and upper St. Croix River
segment. Through a combination of purchases,
easements and zoning, New Brunswick has acquired
more than 95% of its side of this area and
is expanding its protection. Maine has protected
sections of this segment through zoning and
LMFB easement and fee-simple acquisitions.
A proposal currently before the Land of Maine’s
Future Board could expand this coverage to
nearly 95% of the segment, all but completing
the shared concept of an international conservation
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.
In 2004, the St. Croix Valley–and the world–will celebrate
the beginning of French heritage in North America, at St. Croix
Island. A local committee of Maine and New Brunswick residents
is working hard to engage communities and governments in this once-in-a-lifetime
event, with both the National Park Service and Parks Canada playing
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
heritage and will direct visitors to local
sites and businesses to experience these
Recreational fishing is a cornerstone of the lifestyle and economy
of many St. Croix lake communities. In the 1980s, the re-introduction
and rapid expansion of sea-run alewives into the St. Croix system,
in the wake of fishway improvements, coincided with a sharp decline
in smallmouth bass stocks in one of the largest lakes, Spednic,
severely impacting local fishing lodges. While alewives were subsequently
blocked from Spednic Lake and later, for research purposes, at
the Grand Falls dam 18 miles above tidewater, concern that alewives
might impact bass populations elsewhere in the watershed led the
Maine Legislature in 1995 to close all stateside fishways to that
species. The action, and the subsequent crash in the St. Croix
alewife population, created controversy at local and international
levels. This year, fisheries agencies on both sides of the St.
Croix, cooperating through an ongoing fisheries steering committee,
developed a plan to re-establish alewife numbers at a sustainable
level and monitor and protect bass stocks. This plan will be presented
to the Legislature in the coming session.
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.
Under matching legislation, Maine and New Brunswick established
the St. Croix International Waterway Commission in the 1980s to
create and help to implement a cooperative state-provincial management
plan for the international St. Croix corridor. This plan outlines
a range of environmental, cultural, recreational and development
goals for this area and is being implemented on a voluntary basis
by local interests and governments, over the long term. The Waterway
Commission serves as a catalyst, information source, planning entity
and cross-border delivery vehicle for this cooperative effort.
Many of the initiatives described earlier are part of the Maine-New
Brunswick management plan for the St. Croix.
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 IJC to examine the interactions of the St. Croix’s
seven controlled basins. The study showed residents how the various
demands on the system are balanced and increased local appreciation
of the diverse uses made of the St. Croix water resources.
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.
PO Box 610
Calais, ME 04619