Work begins to restore Plymouth's Eel River and watershed

Staff reports

Work has begun to restore the Eel River and Plymouth Harbor watershed to its former status as a home to plants and aquatic creatures.

The 15-square-mile area was home to cranberry bogs for more than 100 years, starting in the 1890s.

“The idea was to restore an ecosystem that had been under agricultural use for about 100 years,” said Jeremy Bell, a wetlands ecologist for the division of ecological restoration within the state Department of Fish and Game. “This is the first project in Massachusetts of this type as far as the complexity of it.”

The project is expected to cost $1.9 million. The money is coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency.

Researchers knew little about what the ecosystem was like before the cranberry bogs, Bell said. The best document they had was a map from the 1830s with the area labeled “Finney’s Meadow.”

“Back then mapping was not as detailed as it is today, and wetlands were not as valuable as they are today. We did a historical and scientific investigation to figure out what might have been there,” Bell said.

The team decided to tear down a 1850s dam, which has prevented fish and eels from swimming upstream into the area; plant Atlantic White Cedar trees, which are native to coastal wetlands from southern Maine to North Carolina; plant shrub pens along riverbanks; and, once that work is done about six months from now, release Bridle Shiners, minnows that are about an inch-long, to repopulate the stream.

“When I looked at the site, it was easy to envision what could be done out there in terms of restoration,” said David Gould, environmental manager for Plymouth’s Department of Public Works. “I’m excited that after four years of hard work, at this stage, construction is beginning.”

The Patriot Ledger