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Ground broken for Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project, Plymouth

Ground is broken for Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project, Plymouth

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The Eel River Preserve.
The Eel River Preserve.
Representatives of partner organizations gathered to break ground on the restoration project.
Representatives of partner organizations gathered to break ground on the restoration project.
Beth Schreier, NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program manager, addresses attendees at the groundbreaking event.
Beth Schreier, NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program manager, addresses attendees at the groundbreaking event.
An excavator digs the first scoop of earth.
An excavator digs the first scoop of earth.
Mary Griffin, Mass. Commissioner of Fish and Game operates the excavator.
Mary Griffin, Mass. Commissioner of Fish and Game operates the excavator.
Robb Johnson of the Nature Conservancy and Alex Hackman of the Mass. Div. of Ecological Restoration plan Atlantic White Cedar trees.
Robb Johnson of the Nature Conservancy and Alex Hackman of the Mass. Div. of Ecological Restoration plan Atlantic White Cedar trees.

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (October 30, 2009) -- Local, state and federal officials gathered to dig the first scoop of earth and plant the first of 17,000 Atlantic White Cedar trees at the site where dramatic improvements will be made to wetland and riverine habitat in the headwaters of the Eel River, a small spring-fed system that drains to Plymouth Harbor.

River and wetland restoration activities are now underway that will result in new and more abundant fish and wildlife, help the local ecology be more resilient in the face of future stress, and enhance public use of conservation land now and for the future.

The project area includes approximately 40 acres of retired cranberry bogs, as well as the Sawmill Pond Dam, a small stone dam and impoundment located downstream of the bogs. Now known as the Eel River Preserve, the area is managed by the Town of Plymouth for public use and benefit.

Restoration activities in the bogs will include 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. Sawmill Pond Dam will be re-configured to allow fish passage, and a restored river channel and floodplain will be rebuilt in the existing impoundment.

Rare wetland plant communities will also be reestablished. Over 24,000 plants including more than 17,000 Atlantic white cedar trees will be planted. This is the first large scale restoration of this rare wetland type in Massachusetts.

Project partners include the Town of Plymouth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game's Division of Ecological Restoration, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, and the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership. NRCS is providing technical assistance and partial funding through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).

"Not only does this 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 Beth Schreier, NRCS WRP program manager in her remarks at the event. "We’re pleased to have provided more than $300,000 in federal funding for conservation easements and a portion of the restoration costs for the Eel River Preserve through WRP."

Past agricultural activities resulted in the removal of trees, modification of the stream channel, and construction of upland berms and water control structures. The downstream dam is a barrier to fish migration and the impoundment affects habitat, water quality and natural riverine processes.

The Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project will improve fish passage, promote a healthy coldwater fishery, improve water quality, establish rare wetland communities, and provide the public with recreational and educational opportunities. The increased biological diversity in the headwaters area will improve ecological resilience.

As a cold-water fishery, the restored stream will provide suitable habitat for temperature-sensitive species, such as brook trout. The restored landscape will be connected to other conservation land, providing migration corridors for a variety of species while also becoming part a recreational trail that interprets the historical use of the area. The project will also provide conservationists with valuable information that will guide other wetland restoration efforts. And, future generations will inherit and enjoy the Eel River Preserve.

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. This land abutted other town-owned property purchased with CPA funds from cranberry grower Ashley Holmes.

A partnership including the the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Nature Conservancy, the Hornblower Foundation, the Sheehan Family Foundation and local residents funded conservation easements, the land purchase and some of the restoration costs. The town converted the entire area to public conservation land.

The majority of site restoration activities are expected to be completed by 2011, with follow-up monitoring and planting for several additional years as needed.

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Eel River Headwaters Restoration Project Fact Sheet