Eel River Headwaters Restoration (Plymouth)

Completed in 2010, the first-of-its-kind project in Massachusetts
Two images one at the start of the project and oneeight years after.
Left to Right: Wetland and stream restoration at the start of the project (2009) and then eight years post-restoration (2017)

This Town of Plymouth led effort transformed approximately 60-acres of former commercial cranberry farm into self-sustaining freshwater wetlands. Today, it is managed by the Town as public open space including a trail network. Winner of the 2011 Coastal America Partnership Award, the Eel River Headwaters Project used a process-based approach to transform approximately 60-acres of former commercial cranberry farm into self-sustaining freshwater wetlands. Today, the Atlantic white cedar trees planted almost 10 years ago are thriving in the upper portion of the site, wetland plants cover former farm surface, and river herring have been spotted swimming upstream and into the site. As the first project of this kind in Massachusetts, DER and partners have and continue to learn valuable lessons about methods and outcomes. 

Location:  Public parking is available at the corner of Boot Pond and Long Pond Road in Plymouth (map link).


The project removed barriers to aquatic connectivity throughout the site, including Sawmill Pond Dam, two undersized culverts, and 7 smaller dams. Approximately 1.7 miles of stream channel were reconstructed, and over 1,000 pieces of large wood added for habitat value. A significant amount of earthmoving (~48,000 cubic yards) was completed to close ditches, remove sand, and relocate sediment. Over 17,000 young Atlantic white cedar trees were planted to attempt to bring back a globally rare coastal swamp type; today many are over 15’ tall and seedlings are sprouting up amidst a new carpet of sphagnum moss. 

Project Costs & Funding

Total project cost was approximately $2 million. One-quarter of that cost went toward the replacement of an undersized culvert beneath Long Pond Road. Funding was provided in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. 

Project Partners

DER assisted the project team throughout including the Town of Plymouth (landowner), USFWS, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Program. The project engineer was Inter-Fluve, Inc. and the construction contractor was SumCo Eco-Contracting.

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