Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project

A process-based approach was used to holistically transform approximately 60-acres of former commercial cranberry farm into self-sustaining freshwater wetlands.

Eel River, Plymouth MA

Restored wetlands.
Eel River seven years after restoration.

Winner of the 2011 Coastal America Partnership Award, the Eel River Headwaters Project used a process-based approach to holistically transform approximately 60-acres of former commercial cranberry farm into self-sustaining freshwater wetlands. A variety of partners supported the Town of Plymouth's multi-year effort to permanently protect the land, design and implement restoration activities, and provide public access and recreational opportunities. 

Through a coordinated series of restoration actions, the project addressed a myriad of stressors limiting ecological potential, including barriers to fish and wildlife passage, altered hydrology and degraded wetland soils (buried under a century of farm-applied sand), and simplified channel and floodplain structure.  Specific actions included:

  • Removal of the Sawmill Pond Dam (a complete barrier to upstream fish migration);
  • replacement of two undersized culverts and removal of a third; removal of seven water control structures (essentially small dams);
  • re-construction of 1.7 miles of stream channel and floodplain;
  • installation of 1,000+ pieces of large wood, removal of 48,000 cubic yards of fill, and installation of approximately 20,000 plants, including 17,000+ Atlantic white cedar trees.

Monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management are in progress. This ‘first-of-its-kind’ restoration of a former cranberry farm provides guidance and lessons for 100s of acres of other wetland restoration projects now in progress in southeastern Massachusetts.

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