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9/25/2013 2:00:00 PM
Damariscotta Fish Ladder 'Finish Line In Sight'
By Paula Roberts

The Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration project has been a seven year marathon and the finish line is in sight.

Project manager Deb Wilson is not cheering yet, but if the community can come up with $25,000 to complete a matching grant, Wilson will be dancing in the streets in Damariscotta Mills, and the alewives will be swimming upstream with ease next spring in a completed fish ladder.

"We are putting the challenge out there that we can use some help," Wilson said.

Since the ladder restoration project started in 2007, the number of alewives entering Damariscotta Lake has increased nine-fold. The numbers have risen from 100,000, to 150,000 in 2011; 500,000 in 2012; and 900,000 in 2013.

"Every time we work on it we increase the numbers," Wilson said.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's goal is to increase alewife population (also called river herring), which are depleted along the entire Eastern Seaboard.

"Our project has really been a model because we have been so successful. We have exceeded their expectations from a number standpoint and from a community-support standpoint," Wilson said.

The Elmina Sewell Foundation has issued a challenge grant of $75,000. In order to receive the challenge grant, the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder has to raise $215,000. They are in hopes of receiving a grant of $135,000 from the NF&WF. With $30,000 in the bank from past fundraisers and grants, and $25,000 promised in anonymous grants, the committee needs to raise the additional $25,000 to complete the $290,000 project. "That is assuming we get the grants," treasurer Russ Williams commented.

"We are feeling very optimistic and hope people will help," Wilson said of being in the homestretch of realizing their goal.

"We have three-quarters of the fish ladder completed. The pools have been rebuilt and they are working. We have the lower 14 pools left. Their walls are leaking and blowing out. It is the section under the footbridge, where the fish enter the ladder. This area is so important in a lot of ways," Wilson said.

The project includes increasing the pool size in the fish ladder to get better circulation. "It has been a problem, they jam in there, and deplete oxygen in the pools. They kind of get stuck and block the passage for those behind them," Wilson said of problems in the lower 14 pools.

They have temporarily improved the ladder by changing the circulation pattern of the pools using sand bags to make them work better, Wilson said.

The stonework on a total of 30 pools also needs to be finished, and the land around the fish ladder needs to be restored. "If we get everything it will be close. It will be a substantial completion. Our goal is to finish it," Wilson said of starting in November and finishing up in time for the spring run.

The timeline "will be dictated by the weather," Williams said.

As with the last section of the ladder that was restored, the majority of work will be completed during the winter months, under a makeshift tent. Colby & Gale generously donated the propane for the last project phase to heat the work site.

The permit for the construction work on the ladder expires in November 2014, giving urgency to complete the project.

The success of the restoration efforts on the Damariscotta Fish Ladder is the result of a grassroots community support. "Whether a part of the leadership group or providing goods for bake sales. A lot of people have helped to make a difference here," Wilson said of the tremendous community support.

The grass roots effort started with Frank Waltz pointing out places in the fish ladder that were not working. "We did band-aid fixes in the early '80s. Friends of the Alewives raised $200 to $300 with potlucks.

The Nobleboro Historical Society, and the Towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle started the restoration initiative in earnest in 2007. Grant writing, community bean suppers, and the spring and fall alewives festivals were born to raise funds to restore the fish ladder.

The festivals became thought of as "one t-shirt at a time fund raising," Wilson said.

The sixth annual Fall Alewives Festival, with its famous soup and chowder, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The third annual raffle drawing of $10,000 will be held. Tickets are $100 each. The sixth annual running of the wooden alewives will also be held.

On tap this year is a $10 mug filled with homemade soup or chowder with bread and a cookie, hot dogs, baked goods, and kids games.

With fundraiser efforts down to the final sprint, the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration project needs the community support. "November 2014 is the deadline for the matching grant, so we really need some help," Wilson added.

Donations may be made out to the Nobleboro Historical Society at PO Box 122, Nobleboro, 04555, or on line at

For more information on how one can help, contact Russ Williams at 329-1161, or Deb Wilson at 380-6997.

Related Links:
• Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration

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