Friends of the Presumpscot River and Local Municipalities Consider a Joint Resolution to Create Five-Mile Historic and Natural River Corridor
August 17, 2017 (Westbrook, Maine)—Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) presented a proposal last week to the city and town councils of Gorham, Windham and Westbrook, requesting consideration of a joint resolution that would designate a five-mile stretch of river—between Mallison and Saccarappa Falls—as the Presumpscot Historic and Natural River Corridor (see full proposal attached).
While municipalities throughout Maine and the United States are beginning to discover the economic benefits of natural amenities near downtown areas, the proposed corridor designation would be the first of its kind in the state, according to Maine Rivers (see FOPR’s economic report at presumpscotriver.org). The joint resolution is already gaining support among local leaders who see it as an opportunity to increase awareness and appreciation of the Presumpscot River as a valued regional resource.
"The Presumpscot River is a tremendous local asset for Gorham. I believe that designating this five-mile historic and relatively undisturbed stretch of the river as the Presumpscot Historic and Natural River Corridor is a wonderful way to celebrate our community's history, expand economic opportunity, and provide greater outdoor recreation experiences for our residents and visitors,” said Marla Stelk, Gorham Town Councilor.
After more than two-and-a-half centuries of damning, industrialization and pollution, the land along the proposed corridor remained relatively undisturbed. While stricter water quality standards and ongoing restoration efforts have vastly improved the river, still less than half a dozen structures stand within sight distance of its banks. The tranquility of this wilderness-like environment, just a short distance from the state’s most densely populated areas, is what draws people here to kayak, fish, hike or bird watch, and enjoy the peace and quiet of a natural refuge.
In addition, historic remnants including 19th-Century arched-stone culverts bookended by old mills, parts of the C&O Canal and a section of the Mountain Division Rail, all tell the story of the river’s industrial past. While this natural environment attracts diverse wildlife including beaver, fox, deer and moose, as well as eagles, osprey and great blue heron.
“Reconnecting people to the Presumpscot, a river that runs through the most urban part of our state, is valuable. I see the corridor designation as a way to connect people with local history, with a revitalized river and with great recreational opportunities. It shows hope and pride,” said Landis Hudson, Executive Director of Maine Rivers.
Timing for the corridor designation request comes as the Saccarappa Agreement continues to move forward. The agreement—between SAPPI, Maine Department of Marine Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Conservation Law Foundation and FOPR—includes removal of the dam and installation of fish passage at Saccarappa Falls. These steps are crucial for the continued restoration of the Presumpscot River and its native fishery, an effort in which FOPR has long taken a leading role.
“Once implemented, the fish passage will allow alewife, shad and herring to swim back up river into this undeveloped area, while the dam removal will return the five-mile stretch along the corridor to a natural state not seen here for 250 years,” explained Michael Shaughnessy, FOPR’s Board President. “The terrain will be more dramatic with exposed ledges and stretches of both flat water and rapids. All of this will also make for better animal habitat and more interesting opportunities for paddling, fishing and birding.”
“Our downtown is making great strides toward revitalization, and the river is central to its continued development,” explained Abigail Cioffi, Director of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition. “We’re so fortunate to have such a pristine section of the Presumpscot River in our own backyard, with the corridor extending all the way from Mallison Falls to Saccarappa Falls in downtown Westbrook. Our board has unanimously voted to endorse this designation. It’s a strong, positive statement that our city and our neighbors all care about the river and its ability to create economic vitality through recreation and quality of place.”
Cioffi will explore this topic further during a lecture at the Walker Memorial Library on Thursday, September 7, at 5:30 p.m. “The River Runs through Us – Saccarappa’s Past, Present & Future” is part of FOPR’s River Talk Series and will focus on how the city’s current and future plans for revitalizing Westbrook’s downtown and Main Street are directly connected to the renewal of the Presumpscot River’s natural landscape and biological diversity.
If accepted, the proposed corridor designation would be non-binding and not require budgetary support. The joint resolution is also consistent with the comprehensive plans for all three communities, including the recreation, land and resource sections of each plan (see full proposal attached).
Please Note: Members of the press are invited on a guided boat tour of the Presumpscot Historic and Natural River Corridor. To schedule, please contact Michael Shaughnessy, FOPR’s Board President, at (207) 329-5042 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: Celebrating 25 Years Advocating for Our River, Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) is a non-profit organization supported primarily by grants, donations and membership dues. Founded in 1992, FOPR’s mission is to protect and improve the water quality, indigenous fisheries, recreational opportunities and natural character of the Presumpscot River. For more information, visit presumpscotriver.org.