Federal and State Environmental Officials Celebrate the Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project in Plymouth
Project receives honor from national organization
State and local partners - including the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) - invested $2 million in the Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project to restore wetland and river habitat that was extensively altered and degraded by human use. The project resulted in the protection of abundant fish and wildlife, increased the local environment's resiliency to climate change and enhanced public use of the conservation land.
"Coastal ecosystems are among the Commonwealth's most precious resources and the Eel River project demonstrates how the cooperation and innovation of partners - both public and private - can not only restore but revitalize these critical habitats," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr., whose office includes DFG.
Coastal America Partnership, a national organization made up of more than 16 federal and state agencies dedicated to preserving coastal ecosystems, recognized the collaborative efforts of the town of Plymouth, local environmental organizations and local companies, as well as federal and Massachusetts environmental agencies. Established in 1997, the Coastal America Awards program honors outstanding efforts and excellence in leadership for protecting, preserving and restoring the nation's coastal resources and ecosystems.
"The Eel River Headwaters Restoration Partnership is a model for the type of collaboration President Obama has called for in the America's Great Outdoors Initiative," said Eileen Sobeck, Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. "It is this type of grassroots partnership that will protect and restore sensitive coastal areas for wildlife and people to enjoy."
The restoration was funded through a variety of sources with major contributions provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Section 319 Grant Program.
"The completion of this project will not only establish habitats for rare species and create recreational and educational opportunities for our communities, but it will take on the important responsibility of improving water quality for the Plymouth community," said Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray. "The restoration of this habitat will continue to provide us with benefits for years to come and I want to thank everyone whose hard work made this project a success."
Taking approximately five years to complete, the project included the naturalization of almost 40 acres of retired cranberry bogs and the removal of Sawmill Pond Dam - located downstream of the bogs. It represents the first large-scale restoration of this rare wetland type in Massachusetts, with over 24,000 plants including more than 17,000 Atlantic white cedar trees planted.
"The restoration of the headwaters of Eel River is one of the most ambitious coastal restoration projects completed to date in New England," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin. "It is the largest Atlantic white cedar swamp restoration in the Commonwealth and includes a variety of restoration techniques in a single project area."
Now known as the Eel River Preserve, the area is managed by the town of Plymouth for public use and benefit. Restoration techniques employed included extensive wetland plantings and rare species habitat creation and enhancement. Restoration activities in the bogs also included reconstruction of a natural stream channel, placement of in-stream habitat features, filling of artificial side channels, removal of berms and water control structures, and replacement of undersized culverts to enhance fish passage. The removal of the dam will allow greater fish passage with the formation of a new river channel.
"The Town of Plymouth is appreciative of the wonderful partnership that was developed between local, state and federal agencies to complete the Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project and looks forward to maintaining this partnership in the future to restore other wetlands and aquatic habitats in Plymouth," said David Gould, Environmental Resource Manager for the town of Plymouth.
Past agricultural activities resulted in land clearing, modification of the stream channel, construction of upland berms and water control structures. The downstream dam was a complete barrier to fish migration and the impoundment affected habitat, water quality and natural riverine processes.
"From restoring fish passage to replacing the road crossings that help migrating frogs and salamanders, this project has reestablished the connections that make this region so important for conservation," said Wayne Klockner, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. "Restoration efforts like the work at Eel River are critical to preserving habitat, protecting our drinking water and providing recreational opportunities for local people."
The Eel River Preserve was historically a wetland known as "Finney's Meadow." The river once flowed uninterrupted to the ocean and supported an array of wildlife. In the early 1800s, a series of mills and dams were constructed. Cranberry farming began in the late 1800s and continued until 2002. In 2006, Plymouth's Community Preservation Committee purchased cranberry bogs from the Phoenix Cranberry Corporation and converted the entire area to public conservation land.
"Not only does the Eel River site have environmental importance, but it's also part of the rich history of the Town of Plymouth and the cranberry growing region of Southeastern Massachusetts," said Christine Clarke, Massachusetts State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. "We're pleased to have provided more than $300,000 in federal Farm Bill funding for conservation easements and a portion of the restoration costs for the Eel River Preserve through the Wetlands Reserve Program."
Project partners included: the town of Plymouth, DFG and its Division of Ecological Restoration, MassDEP, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Partners for Wildlife, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Natural Resource Conservation Service, American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Horsley Witten Group, Inter-fluve, Inc., Sumco Eco-Contracting, and the A.D. Makepeace Company.
"MassDEP was proud to partner on this important project and utilize our 319 funds for a project that will not only restore ecological integrity, but will improve water quality for community benefit," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell.
The mission of the Division of Ecological Restoration is to restore and protect the Commonwealth's rivers, wetlands and watersheds for the benefit of people and the environment. The Division was created in 2009 with the merger of the Riverways and Wetland Restoration Programs and is coordinating 80 ecological restoration projects across the Commonwealth.
DFG is responsible for promoting the enjoyment and conservation of the Commonwealth's natural resources. DFG carries out this mission through land preservation and wildlife habitat management, management of inland and marine fish and game species, and enforcement of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. DFG promotes enjoyment of the Massachusetts environment through outdoor skills workshops, fishing festivals and other educational programs, and by enhancing access to the Commonwealth's lakes and ponds.