The 8th grade collaboratively produced a report to the St. George Conservation Commission. Here are the contents of their report. Their work leaves the community better than before and is something to be very proud of. (A link to the full report with images can be accessed here.)
Report to the Conservation Commission from the Saint George Eighth Grade June 6, 2019
The town of St. George includes the villages of Tenants Harbor, Martinsville, Long Cove, Spruce Head, Port Clyde, Clark Island, and Glenmere. St. George is located in Knox County in the midcoast of Maine. This small town, a favorite among artists, writers and naturalists was first settled on February 7, 1803. As of the 2010 Census the Town’s population was 2,591, most of those being from the ages of 55 to 64.
Historically, a typical North American Shad, the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) has bred in the Marsh in Tenants Harbor. The Marsh contains about eighty-three acres of freshwater. Within the Marsh there is a seventy-five foot outlet stream, varying in width from five to twenty feet. The stream flows underneath Route 131, through the culvert, newly placed in 2015 out into Ripley Creek. Ripley Creek is a straight and relatively narrow tidal creek. The creek travels about a quarter of a mile before passing between two large boulders that transition the creek into the harbor.
Alewives spawned in our Marsh until about 1985 or 1986, when the “switch was flipped” and plenty of fish one year, turned into none the next. The problem was discovered, that the new culvert that had been installed under Route 131 was “perched” too high for the fish to pass through, preventing them from spawning and quickly eliminating our local population. For years the town has worked hard to restore our run, installing a new culvert with weirs, creating pools for the fish to rest in, and restocking fish with the help of the Department of Marine Resources, although so far the efforts have not been all too successful, seeing only single digit numbers of fish in the last year. With prompting from Jonathan Coggeshall and the Conservation Commission, we took on the task to design and construct a fish ladder, improve the pools created in years past, and look for returning alewives.
A REQUEST TO EIGHTH GRADERS FOR HELP DEVELOPING FISH PASSAGE FOR THE ALEWIVES TO GET TO THE MARSH.
St George has a history of the alewives returning to the marsh in May to spawn. There is the history of the alewives being an important food source at the end of a bad winter. Widows were allowed a free bushel. The alewives are important for lobster bait. They are also important as a part of the food chain. They exist to be eaten and without them, fin fish like Cod do not have food.
Why did they stop returning to the marsh? Before a raised culvert was installed under Route 131, there was a bridge spanning granite abutments, with a gravel bottom that was a perfect fish passage. The State replaced it with a round steel culvert that was “perched” too high for the fish to get into. The fish will swim like crazy but not jump more than 6-12 inches.
With John Shea’s suggestion, the Conservation Commission started to restore the alewife run about ten years ago. Between 500 and 1000 alewives have been stocked from another run, probably the Kennebec, for four or five years. There is now a good culvert for fish passage. The fish are such courageous swimmers. They will get up to the marsh if they can.
The alewives have not come back as well as we would like. The majority opinion is that they are having trouble getting in or out, or both. The sandbags do make a pool where the fish can rest for the next step. A better channel from the culvert up-stream would help. Also, a fish ladder from the pool to the dam would get the fish over the low dam into the marsh.
I have been talking to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), and they would like to have monitoring of temperature, oxygen saturation, salinity, pH, and mapping of the bottom.
Today, I am asking if you would help the town of St George restore the alewife run into the marsh. You could help by doing research and deciding on a design and construction of a fish ladder. Improvement of the pools and channel will go a long way to providing access to the marsh. Also, some monitoring of flow, temperature, oxygen saturation, salinity, and pH would demonstrate to DMR the quality of this water body.
St. George Conservation Commission
Part I – Community History Summaries
John York’s Mill (1788)
John York’s ancestor George York owned 168 acres of land that bordered the outlet of Marsh Creek, as it was known then. According to the town records of Cushing, which included Saint George, the deed was from Henry Knox. George York had mentioned an heir that would inherit his land and it turns out, that heir was John York. John York’s mill was also one of the places mentioned in public notices to gather for town meetings. He could have been using that mill with a small dam to harness water and it could have been a tidal mill.
Shaun Hopkins, Zeke Miller
The Davis Brother’s 10 Year Agreement (1890)
Based on an 1857 map of Tenant’s Harbor found in the basement of the Town Office, we found that our marsh was significantly smaller in size than it is now.
John Falla shared a brief history about the Davis Brothers and their Ice House agreement, which could be the reason
we have a larger marsh today. According to Mr. Falla, the Davis Brothers went into the business of producing ice in the
year of 1890. There was a deed showing a ten- year agreement between the Davis Brothers and the land owners. The deed stated that the Davis Brothers could raise the marsh’s water level by five feet with the impact of building a dam. It is said that the ice business and the ice house may have lasted until around 1910.
Now Ripley Creek leads from the marsh and falls out from a man-made bank of concrete and metal. This could be the remains from the dam.
The ice house would have been found close to the bank of the marsh near today’s Jackson Memorial Library.
Addie McPhail, Lute Campbell
The Tenants Harbor Alewife Run
When Randy Elwell came to the 7th grade class this year, he told them how the alewife run was different when he was younger. When he was a young boy, he would go behind the Grace Institute where he remembers using a scale basket to catch some alewives. He then proceeded to tell what a scale basket was. “You know what a scale basket is…They have holes in them to let the water out.” He then went on to explain how everyone in the town would come down to get alewives, some even being students coming straight out of school. You could go out with whatever kind of tool and you would probably get an alewife. There were so many ways you could catch a fish back then. There were even some people who would catch them using illegal methods. At the end Randy was asked questions; one being if he ever ate alewives, to which he responded, “Oh yeah. My father-in-law smoked ’em for years. He owned a smokehouse.” He then told us about the sales part, “He did it for years and years…Dried fish, salt fish, peel it off and eat it. Do the same thing with the smoked alewives. The older people really liked them. They would heat them up or some people would peel them off and eat them.”
Jeff Falla and Robert Morris
When Jeff Falla and Robert Morris were younger, they would swim and watch fish in Ripley Creek. They saw changes going on and had lots of stories to tell about their times there. Jeff and Robert told about Ripley Creek when they were kids, which helps us understand how much has changed over the last 40 years. First of all, there used to be a house that sat over the creek. There is a stone pillar from it that is still in the creek. The house used to dump sewage into the creek. The waste gave them red blotches all over their skin when they swam. The waste also drew in bottom feeders such as flounder and mackerel. Another thing that changed a lot was the amount of alewives in the run. They told us that there was never a big run, but some lobstermen from Wheeler Bay would come and catch the alewives. There were enough alewives that they could walk around in the water with them and catch them with strainers to throw them over the beaver dam. Now, as most people likely know, the alewife run is almost non-existent. Comparing our current run to the run a while ago is unbelievable, and it’s shocking how something can change so quickly.
Lyle Morris netted alewives for lobster bait and said that the alewife run was never large. The alewives were caught in Ripley Creek and were caught by around three to five different local people for lobster bait and halibut bait. The alewives would be frozen if the halibut season was over. As a kid, Lyle said he remembers three rock pools that would be fixed up every year so that the alewives would have pools of water to rest in before they go into the marsh with the tide. In 1985, Lyle netted 6-8 bushels in the creek. The next year, Lyle said, “like a switch” the alewives were gone and they stopped coming to the marsh to spawn.
The original culvert going through Ripley Creek was granite and alewives could easily get through to the marsh. Unfortunately, a metal culvert was put in during the 1970’s and the alewive’s migration path was blocked because the culvert was put in too high. The fish couldn’t pass through to get to the marsh because of this problem. Due to them not being able to get up to the marsh, they couldn’t reproduce, so that their population decreased. Along with this, there was also some harvesting taking place. A new cement culvert was put in during August 2015, and that is at the right elevation and has weirs for the alewives to rest in. It was designed by an engineer specifically for this creek. This was a major improvement, and we have since seen some alewives come up through the culvert to the base of the dam to get to their spawning grounds, the marsh.
Willow McConochie, Laney King
In hopes of bringing back the population of alewives in the marsh, starting in 2009 through 2014 the state issued the town of St.George 250 male and 250 female fish, totaling 500, each year. Every spring during the re-stocking, the current 8th grade class would go down to the marsh and pass fishnets full of the alewives hand to hand, and place them into the marsh. They did this to restore the run of alewivies into the marsh from Ripley Creek because we know that alewives return to their birthplace to spawn three-four years after hatching, returning to the sea to mature. However, only a small fraction of these fish or their offspring have returned. In 2016, approximately 40 of these alewivies returned, but last year only two known alewives returned.
The 8th grade class of 2023, our class, had discovered last year that spring tides would flood the marsh, which we thought could potentially affect reproduction of the alewives. Because of that, the current 7th grade is testing whether any salinity does cause harm to eggs.
So, because of the previously mentioned problems with our run, only a small fraction of these fish returned, but hopefully with our improvements and research, this will change for the better.
Jack Elwell, Henry Weinand, James Cody
Part II – Stream Improvements, 2019
In order to try to restore our alewife run, we have been making the marsh more easily accessible for the alewives to swim into. We have filled about one hundred sandbags and have placed them in Ripley Creek, creating large pools with calm water for the alewives to rest in, as they climb up to the marsh. We also placed a fish ladder modeled on a design used in Quantabacook Lake at the outlet. To clear the way, we moved rocks and gravel, also making a deeper stream, which is easier for the fish to swim through. We began our field work on May 9th, placed the fish ladder in on May 22nd, and concluded our site work on May 31st.
Last year’s 8th grade class had placed about 50 sandbags in the stream; some below the outlet to help retain water near the dam, and others near the granite pillar to create a deeper pool through the middle section of the stream, so we reinforced those and built new structure. We then laid the sandbags in strategic areas to make pools where the current was almost non-existent. This made a resting spot for alewives going up the creek, because swimming up that current is a real challenge.
Here are some details:
At the dam, we moved some rocks to make the channel flatter and easier to place a ladder in. We then built a fish ladder out of wood, which looks like a gutter for the fish to swim up into the marsh. The water flows through the chute and we hope it will help get the alewives up to the marsh. We laid sandbags around the top of the dam, to make the water flow into the ladder more than around it. On the 31st day of May, we doubled the height of the sandbags we had layered on the dam, to conserve the water in the marsh.
Just below the dam, we used some sandbags to decrease the velocity of the current, because as the water from the dam flows over into the ladder, the flow gets really heavy. The current goes straight into the pool, so we made a wall of sandbags that persuaded the current to the left, so the current isn’t as heavy. Then we used lots of sandbags at the downstream side of the main pool to make it deeper.
A few of us used our bare hands to clear out larger rocks that were in the way of the run. We managed to put them on the shore, even though the algae made them super slippery. Once the big rocks were moved, sand bags were placed on both the left and right side of the creek, to create a deeper and more narrow run, up to the pool.
We also took shovels down to clear out the little pebbles at the edge of the culvert. Shoveling the gravel out next to the culvert was to make the water deeper, creating an easier path for the fish. We also put a few staggered sandbags upstream of the culvert to slow water current and create small areas of rest.
Before we made these improvements, it was difficult for alewives to make their way upstream, whether it was because their path was blocked by big rocks, and piles of pebbles, or they simply couldn’t get over the dam. Doing this increases the chances of seeing fish in the future and may help to rebuild our precious run.
Henry Weinand, Jack Elwell, James Cody, Lute Campbell, Willow McConochie, Laney, Sophia
Part III – Research of Fishway Designs Quantabacook Lake Fish Ladder
On May 18th, 2019 the public was invited to the Quantabacook Lake for an “Open House” held by Georges River Trout Unlimited and the landowner. The dam in Quantabacook was originally built in the 1790’s. Alewives can’t get over the dam because it’s at least a foot high. The public went there to see the returning of the alewives at the spawning grounds and to learn about their fish ladder which became the inspiration for the ladder we built and put into the Marsh.
The fish ladder in Quantabacook Lake dam is only needed when the water is low. The Quantabacook design is by Marty Bartlett. He has been designing fish ladders for low water situations there at the lake and finds this design to work well. The ladder he displayed that weekend has two metal straps that attach to the gravel upstream of the ladder to have a secure hold.
Since alewives have successfully used the fish ladder that Marty Bartlett had made, we think it will work in our Marsh just as well because the alewives can swim up the ladder and into the marsh.
Madison Barbour, Lilly Dyer, Breannah Morris
How does our site compare with Nature-like Fishway design guidelines?
This endeavor to help bring the alewives to our marsh required much thought, discussion, and research. We learned about existing research on fish ladder designs and how different designs might best suit the conditions of our alewife run. We had to examine our marsh environment closely and take measurements of our fish ladder area such as width, length, depth, and water velocity. These told us whether our water flow was suitable for alewives to swim up for the length of our ladder. (See next section.)
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends minimum pool width, depth, and length conditions for a prime alewife habitat. They stated that the minimum pool/channel width is 5.0 feet, the minimum pool/channel depth is 2.25 feet, and the minimum pool/channel length is 10.0 feet. Ripley Creek pool’s width, depth and length are within these guidelines. The pool is ideal for alewives.
How does the water velocity this spring compare with research of alewife swimming speeds?
On Friday May 31st at 11:28 am our eighth grade class went down to the marsh to calculate the water velocity in our newly placed fish ladder. It was important for us to do this to determine whether or not our alewives could make it from the many pools up into the marsh through the strong current in the ladder.
The first thing we did as always, was sneak up onto the culvert to check for returning alewives. When it was determined that none were spotted, we continued on to the ladder to calculate the velocity.
The first thing we did was to take a yardstick and measure the depth of the ladder, then the width, and finally the length. The few that gathered the data then reported it to those that were recording. The final measurement needed was the speed of the flow, or how fast the water was travelling in the ladder. To gather this information we used a tennis ball and cut a small slit into it. We then filled the ball with water approximately halfway so that we would get an accurate measurement. Our next step was to send the ball down the ladder, starting farther into the marsh so that it was accurate, and time until it reached the end.
Using this data and a sheet provided to us we calculated that the water velocity of our fish ladder is 26.52 centimeters per second. Using a published study we discovered that greater than 92% of alewives can swim through this current we have created for the length we have assessed (five feet).
Lydia Myers, Gwen Miller, Mya Simmons
Part IV – Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the Conservation Commission for giving us a hands-on project to build a fish ladder and improve passage in the stream. With the help of the Conservation Commission, we have more hope for a successful run of alewives, which would help our fishing community and ecosystem greatly. Thank you so much for all your encouragement! We look forward to future improvements and an amazing alewife run.
Maggie Gill, Mya Simmons, Gwen Miller
I am indebted to our Commission for their inclusive and enthusiastic support of our students. This partnership engages our students with purpose and value, and connects them to our natural world in the context of community responsibility and stewardship.
I would also like to extend my appreciation to community members who have visited our classroom and shared their experience, knowledge and resources with us. In doing so, you’ve helped our students access unwritten cultural knowledge that “brings home” their community heritage and also fosters a desire to care for our natural resources.
Alison England, Middle Level Science Teacher
We all would like to thank Randy Elwell for all his funny, but educational stories and for taking the time out of his day to tell these stories. I thought it was interesting how they could skip shop class if they were fishermen and go catch fish. Also, I thought it was cool that back then that they could just go dip alewives out of the marsh or go get truckloads in Warren because there were so many and no one cared. Now if you did that today, you could get fined. No one even thought about it because they thought the fish would be there forever.
Thank you Mr. Kalloch. Because of you, our class was able to fill up around 100 sandbags. We used these sandbags to create pools of water for the alewivies to rest in as they make their way up Ripley Creek. The sandbags raised the water level a little bit as well. We also used the sandbags to build a better dam so more water goes down our new fish ladder. This was a big help in the town’s restoration process to bring back our alewive run which we lost around 1985-86. We found alewives trying to swim back into the marsh several years ago, which is the incentive for us trying to help them swim back in. Once again, we are very thankful for your contribution.
Henry Weinand, Jack Elwell, James Cody
The middle level students of Saint George want to thank you for taking your time and effort to teach us about valuable things, such as the spot that you mentioned has been a source of fishing for over nine thousand years, and the way the run works and how the cage traps the fish so they can collect them in the town of Warren.
We learned many things about the alewife run such as poachers, and a little about the history, and that alewives were a main source of food back in the day. Again, we thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to teach us, Mr.Courtenay.
Shaun Hopkins, Zeke Miller
“What I will value the most with this project is knowing that I took a part in helping alewives come back to our marsh. With the building of all the pools with the sandbags and building the fish ladder that will hopefully work for the alewives. We put so much work into this project to help the community make sure the alewives will be able to get back into our marsh.”
“I really value being given the privilege to go to the Marsh and being able to be part of building the fish ladder…because now that I am leaving St.George School I am being given the privilege to leave something behind.”
“Something that stands out to me (is) that I learned about this community is that it’s not just our class that wants the run back…It made me realize the importance of keeping a run or rebuilding a run is that some towns can really come to rely on the alewives.”
“The things I’ve learned include the history of alewives, alewife migration, what alewives are used for, and why we want a nice healthy run. Now, I have a better understanding that restoring our alewife run is important because they may not be able to be harvested, but they can also reproduce and are a huge help in our ocean ecosystem. I think that when I am older, and look back on this project, I will value all the team work the most. I feel like this project brought my class and my community closer together, and will forever be grateful for that.”
“When I look back on this project I want to remember making a change for the class and furthermore the town. So, I value making a change with my class that will hopefully help the community.”
“I am proud of building our fish ladder because when people come by to look at it we can say that we did that.”
“What I’ve found very interesting about our community and our alewife run is that one year we can have a great alewife run, and the next time the run is gone. I think this is important because it shows just how quickly things changed. Alewives keep the ocean healthy and are an important part of the food chain.”
“When I look back on this project I will value how we studied our community. It is important to value this because we can walk down to the marsh to do experiments and a lot of people can’t do that because they don’t live in a community like ours…the fish ladder shows how our class can work together and help the community.”
“I was surprised and amazed to learn about just how valuable alewives have been to the people in our community, and to the local ecosystem. It was amazing to learn about how long people have been fishing for alewives, about how long they have been serving our community. The First Nations people who lived here before us relied deeply on alewives as a source of food and, believe it or not, fertilizer, and when the Europeans came they were taught by the people of the First Nations about the uses and proper fishing methods of alewives. I found this fascinating. I was also fascinated by the essential role the alewives played in the interdependent web of the natural world. They provide literal shelter for spawning salmon, food for countless species of birds, including bald eagles, double-crested cormorants, and great black-backed gulls. These fish are of the utmost importance to the whole ecosystem, and it was fascinating to explore that. Overall, this unit has been fun, informative, and has further connected me to my community.”
“During this three year project, our class has been learning about the lost alewife run in our town’s marsh. In sixth grade we started with doing something called the “Watershed Project” which was when we learned about the ecosystem in and around the marsh. In seventh grade we worked on the salinity in the marsh, and this year we have been working on trying to bring the alewives back. We have studied when and why our community has lost our run, and how it has affected the ecosystem. When I look back on this project, the most thing that I will value is knowing that I was trying to help these fish get into their home. I am proudest of the work we have done to and around the marsh. I am happy with this because it makes me feel like I helped the earth, and what was gone I can help to come back.”
“The St. George community is very strong and is held together by caring people who are always ready to help others. They care a lot about the town’s children and what the future holds. Through this science restoration project, the community was ready to share what it was like when there was a large run of alewives. During our field trips and blog reading, I learned how much the town relied on those alewives. To them it seemed as though their return was a tradition, for no one thought that one day the community’s children would be trying to bring them back… If the alewives end up not returning though, it was a great effort that we made, and it can certainly bring communities together and make them stronger. As of course, the alewives may have been a huge part of the town’s history. When I graduate, I will certainly miss the school. But I really will miss the way I learned here, with
hands on projects, surrounded by nature and community around me. In sixth when we learned about the watershed of the marsh and we explored the old road, I had the best time. I loved writing all of the poems and making watercolor paintings. So something that I will value from every experience at this school, is the many ways I know I can learn. Whether it be hands on or in a book, I have learned, and certainly value, that when you make an effort to help your community, it really does make a difference. I have learned so many bits of history of the place that I live in that I had no idea about. And without knowing this history I doubt that I could appreciate the project that I was involved in. So thank you St. George School and community, I will always value the history I have learned, the encouragement and praise, and all the many ways I have found that I can learn.”
“This project opened my eyes to how tightly woven this community is. This means that what the members of it do have a great effect on everyone else, which is both good and bad. In some ways, it’s bad, such as when the alewife run in the marsh is lost, and it’s the only one in the community. And in other ways, it’s good, like in scenarios when something like trying to restore the run is done, and it brings everyone together. The many stories of people we read who had experiences in the creek and marsh reinforced this notion as well.
So many people make a living associated with alewives, and there are a lot of memories that people have involving them, that it’s hard to argue that they don’t have an important role in our lives. On the field trip, I was looking at the bountiful runs of alewives and thinking about how ours was so depleted. Also, with the amount of birds flying around, and consuming the alewives really made me realize how important they were to their ecosystem. Seeing these definitely made me realize how important the runs are to communities and their ecosystems.
Looking back at the project, I am proud to have contributed to making our marsh more friendly for the alewives. I am very interested in conservation and helping the environment, so I value that experience a lot. Tying onto this, I feel that my proudest work is my work on improving Ripley Creek, in which I placed sandbags and cleared the silt and rocks. This is because I think that my work really made a difference, and I hope it helps the alewife run return! “
Randy Elwell Classroom visit transcript/notes, April 3, 2019, A. England
Jeff Falla and Robert Morris Classroom visit transcript/notes, March 2016, A. England Lyle Morris Classroom visit transcript/notes, February 2016, A. England
John Falla, Classroom visits/notes, 2016, 2018, A. England
Fish Ladder Design / Martin Bartlett, Searsmont Maine
Streamflow Method / http://watermonitoring.uwex.edu/pdf/level1/datasheets/data-Flow2010.pdf
Nature-like Fishway Designs https://www.fws.gov/northeast/fisheries/pdf/NMFS_2016_Federal_Interagency_NLF_Passage_Design_Guidel ines.pdf