Fall for Restoration

The crispness of the air and nature’s color explosion make fall my favorite season. I always feel more in tune with nature during the fall, as I begin to plan fall hikes along my local rivers. Fall is also the harvest season for certain crops and, for those of us that grew up surrounded by farms, is yet another thing that binds us to the earth this time of year. For centuries, people have used this time of year to “put food by”, canning and preserving this season’s bounty. In fact, as many of you know, pilgrims and the Wampanoag came together in 1621 to share in a meal and celebrate the harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Among the many foods “harvested” that season were herring and shad.

The Town of Plymouth still maintains some of those same values shared by their bretheren so many years ago. Town Brook was the source of freshwater that led the pilgrims to settle in Plymouth and sustained early settlers through those difficult times. Local tribes taught the settlers how to fish for herring and use the fish as fertilizer for corn crops. However, the rise of many mill dams along Town Brook in the 19th century led to the decline of this historic fishery. Visionaries in the town have undertaken the Town Brook Herring Restoration Program, a comprehensive program to restore migratory fish runs and the natural processes of the river. One of the first projects American Rivers was involved with them on was the Billington Street Dam removal, a 200-year old dam that was removed in 2002. This earthen dam had been deteriorating and was blocking passage for alewife and other migratory species. Currently, the Town of Plymouth is working on preliminary steps examining the removal of the Off Billington Street Dam and the Plymco Dam. Thanks to fish ladders downstream, once these two dams are removed, alewife, blueback herring and other species will have full access to Billington Sea, a 269-acre pond that supports prime herring spawning habitat.

The project, which is partially funded through a cooperative partnership between American Rivers and NOAA, benefits more than just fish. It will also contribute to the continuation of the Town Brook Greenway, a series of five parks along the river connected by the Pilgrim Trail. So, this fall, as you start to make your Thanksgiving plans, remember the historic herring runs that used to sustain our forefathers, and if you decide to head to Plymouth and take part in their Thanksgiving festivities, make sure you head down to the Pilgrim Trail and take a tour of Town Brook.