Coonamessett River restoration project underway 10-31-17

Coonamessett River restoration project underway

Cape Cod Times
By Christine Legere

Posted Oct 30, 2017 at 8:18 PM
Updated Oct 31, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Four centuries of human impacts to the lower Coonamessett River will be reversed as part of a massive effort to restore the river's natural course.

EAST FALMOUTH — Four centuries of human impacts to the lower Coonamessett River will be reversed as part of a massive effort to restore the river's natural course and improve habitat for species that previously flourished in and around that winding body of water.

State and local officials, along with representatives from the region's conservation groups, celebrated the start of the $3.5 million river restoration project with a groundbreaking on the banks of the lower Coonamessett Monday.

Betsy Gladfelter, a member of the Conservation Commission and point person for the numerous groups involved in the project, joyfully threw her hands in the air as an enormous backhoe carved out the first scoop of sandy dirt.

The project has been under discussion for more than a decade. "I have e-mails related to this that go back to 2003," Steven Block, a habitat restoration specialist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said to the celebration's attendees. "I congratulate you for your perseverance to get this far."

The groundbreaking kicks off the removal of Lower Dam, restoration of the 11-acre Lower Bog, which will require digging out several feet of sand that accumulated on the river bed as part of cranberry farming, and construction of a foot bridge.

Those tasks are expected to be completed by spring.

The full scope of work, which will be done in two phases and result in 2.2 miles of free-flowing stream by some time in 2019, includes removing two dams, replacing deteriorated culverts at John Parker Road with a fish-friendly crossing; improving access for herring to 158 acres of spawning habitat at Coonamessett Pond; restoring 56 acres of former cranberry bogs to natural wetlands, and re-establishing 4,600 linear feet of habitat.

The Coonamessett River has been a power source for industry in Falmouth since the 1700s, beginning with the construction of grist mills. Later wool mills took advantage of the river's power, and in the late 1800s the cranberry industry moved in.

Species that were heavily impacted by all this industrial activity include alewife and blueback herring, brook trout and the American eel.

Herring, which grow up in the ocean but swim up freshwater streams to give birth to young, dropped dramatically in numbers as a result of those industrial uses.

State Rep. David Vieira, R-Falmouth, said he remembered catching herring with his grandfather back in the day when they were plentiful in the Coonamessett.

"We would hear the seagulls calling and hop into the yellow Datsun pickup truck to catch some herring," Vieira said.

Since those days, the dramatic drop in the Atlantic herring population has resulted in a law that prohibits catching herring as they swim up river in the spring to spawn.

Efforts to improve conditions in the Coonamessett are being conducted by several conservation groups. The Coonamessett River Trust has led the effort to monitor herring populations, eastern brook trout, wetland plants and stream conditions. The 300 Committee is enhancing the Coonamessett Greenway with trails, observation points, and informational signs along the river.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, said his organization has worked on several projects similar to the Coonamessett restoration up and down the Cape. "This is a great example, and perhaps the best example, on Cape Cod of what can be done and what needs to be done to restore water quality."

The restoration project builds on decades of land acquisition in the river corridor by the town and the 300 Committee dating back as far as the 1960s, said the 300 Committee's administrator Jessica Whritenour. "Over 200 acres of land have been preserved," she said.

Wendi Buesseler, a member of the Coonamessett River Trust, told the group the restoration will bring the river full circle, back to when herring flourished "and the river ran free."

From Forum

Herring Public Forum Exemption to Wetland Act for herring protection
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Run Counts 2015 Herring Counts
DaveC > 25-July-2016

Herring Management Town Brook alewives get a free ride to Billington Sea
KnightofNi > 29-April-2016

Herring Public Forum River Herring Migration Series at WHOI
KnightofNi > 30-April-2015

Eels Fines Increased for Herring Poaching
Jones River > 15-April-2015

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