Safari participants hear from Patti Connaughton-Burns from Moose Mountains Regional Greenways on Stop #3 of the Safari Bus Tour.
In 2009 PREP helped to form the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative to improve watershed planning and management — and to protect water supply sources — in the Salmon Falls River watershed. Shared by ten NH towns and eight Maine towns, the Salmon Falls River watershed drains an area of 232.5 square miles. Headwaters for the river originate at Great East Lake in Acton, ME and Wakefield, NH. The river flows approximately 37.5 miles southeast before joining the Cocheco River in South Berwick, ME. Compared to the towns on the shores of Great Bay and the Piscataqua River the development and sub-urbanization is minimal in the watershed but interest is growing. With the widening of Route 16 through Rochester, housing values skyrocketing around the Portsmouth region and baby boomers retiring to their previously seasonal lake houses, the region is experiencing more growth. The U.S Forest Service 2009 report Private Forests, Public Benefits identified the rivers in the Piscataqua Region as the most threatened in the nation with regard to a potential decline in water quality due to conversion of private forested lands to housing.
Luckily, there are some really progressive, extremely awesome organizations, groups, towns and citizens working hard to protect and preserve the watershed for people and wildlife to enjoy, explore and drink from. It was these groups that we wanted to highlight and hear from so on June 29th a group 28 people from different communities, organizations and entities across the watershed and around the region loaded on a bus in Berwick and pointed north.
STOP #1 – Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance
Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance (AWWA) works to protect and restore water quality in the lakes, ponds, rivers and streams of Wakefield, NH and Acton, ME to maintain the environmental, recreational and economic stability of the region. We heard from their super amazing and hard working Youth Conservation Corps a group of eager (and quite eloquent) local area high school students who work with crew leaders and technical directors to install erosion control projects and BMP’s on lakeside properties.
YCC Members sharing their stories with Safari participants. Photo by Kate Wilcox
Each student shared their own experience of their projects and work thus far this summer. They were quite eloquent and their energy was incredibly infectious. The students labor is funded by donations and grants and the landowner provides all the necessary materials for the BMP. Since 2006 the YCC has installed over 750 erosion control measures and at the end of 2015 the YCC projects have directly benefited 12 different bodies of water in the headwaters of the Salmon Falls watershed. Funding for this project was provided in part by a grant from the NH Department of Environmental Services with funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.
YCC members with AWWA Executive Director Linda Schier and SFWC members Kira Jacobs from EPA and Karl Honkonen from US Forest Service. Photo by Kate Wilcox.
STOPS #2 & #3 – Branch River Conservation Area & Union Meadows
Next we traveled to the Branch River Conservation Area in Wakefield, NH and heard from Executive Director of Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, Patti Connaughton-Burns. Patti explained the importance of conserving headwaters areas and how the BRCA overlies a high yield stratified drift aquifer — AKA drinking water source. Getting support for headwaters protection isn’t always as easy as places that provide recreational opportunities but Patti explained the irreplaceable nature of these areas for our drinking water systems.
Branch River Conservation Area provides important wildlife habitat and drinking water source protection. Photo by Kate Wilcox.
After that we made our way over to Union Meadows. This newly conserved 122-acre Wildlife Management Area is in Wakefield, NH. This area was conserved through the collaborative work of N.H. Fish and Game, Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, the Town of Wakefield Conservation Commission and the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests.The parcel has more than 0.8 miles of frontage on the Branch River and more than 0.75 miles of frontage on Union Meadows, a wetland containing over 230 acres of diverse wetland habitat. The land is identified as some of the highest quality habitat in the state in the NH Wildlife Action Plan. Patti explained the challenges that are faced when trying to conserve large parcels of land with funding restraints and the importance of conserving land now, while it might still be affordable, to protect the watershed and drinking water resources downstream for the future.
A beautifully intact forested buffer runs along the Branch River in Union Meadows, Wakefield, NH. Photo by Kate Wilcox.
Stop #5 – Mast Road Dam, Somersworth
As we made our way south the skies opened up – significantly. In fact, it POURED. But, what a great way to talk about the importance of stormwater management! Luckily, the rain didn’t phase Dave Sharples, former Director of Planning and Development for the City of Somersworth, now in Exeter. He hopped on the bus to share the awesome story of the Mast Point Dam project.
Using smart planning, ingenuity and a bit of hardball Dave, the City Council and the Conservation Commission were able to purchase the area and keep it from becoming a residential subdivision. The Mast Point Dam park is 16.0 acres with a mile + of Salmon Falls River frontage. Dave worked tirelessly to garner funding, grants and volunteer support to upgrade the park and feature it as a gem for residents to access the river and enjoy. Using volunteers from Timberland and Liberty Mutual and others the park now has picnic tables, kayak racks, pebbled trails and soon will have a boat launch. Dave’s successor, Mike Bobinsky says the commitment to the park remains a top priority for the city and he’s excited to learn from the folks in Berwick on how to create an accessible boat launch for all.
A bit soggy but still interested, the Safari participants listen to Dave’s efforts to protect Mast Point Dam Park.
STOP #6 – Berwick Riverfront Boat Launch
Never doubt what a group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can accomplish. That’s the story of the Berwick Riverfront Boat Launch and the Friends of the Berwick Riverfront. Dennis Dupuis invited us all down to the newly built boat launch and explained the truly inspiring story of how it came to be.
The group has completed phase 2 of a 3-part project to get people out on the Salmon Falls River, clean up the river and to appreciate the river. Through some masterful fund raising the group was able to purchase and install an EZ Launch Accessible Transfer System as part of the boat dock that can accommodate a wheelchair, enabling anyone, disability or not, to access and enjoy the river. Phase 3 includes a conservation building, boat storage and a kayak rental program. Dennis and his fellow Friends group members were absolutely inspiring and their energy for protecting and enjoying their river was infectious.
FINAL STOP – Ice Cream & Envision Berwick
It wouldn’t be a true field trip if we didn’t stop the bus for ice cream! So that’s what we did at Dairy Delite in Berwick. There we were joined by John Stoll, Town Planner for Berwick. John shared the fantastic work he and the town have undertaken to secure over a $1 million in US EPA Brownfields funding to clean up and revitalize the Prime Tanning site in downtown Berwick. John shared the valuable public process undertaken by the Envision Berwick group and plans for a future for Berwick that includes public green space, trails systems, a downtown brewery and gastropub and more. The future for Berwick is very bright thanks to committed and thoughtful townspeople and staff.
The Success Safari was just that – a success but it wouldn’t have been a success without the willingness of partners at AWWA, Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, City of Somersworth, Friends of Berwick Riverfront and Town of Berwick to share their stories and the fantastically enthusiastic safari participants. The day was full of great energy, inspiration and collaboration. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well we know it takes many villages, citizens, organizations, agencies, town leaders and more to protect and preserve a watershed and we are thankful to the many who work tirelessly for that goal. We hope to host another Safari next summer but until then, please connect with these groups and learn more about how you can help protect and preserve the magic that is the Salmon Falls watershed.