Merrimack Village Dam Removal to Begin Next Week
Removal is slated to begin on the Merrimack Village Dam on Monday, August 6, and thanks to the ‘dam cam’ provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center, people around the world will have the opportunity to watch the river as it transforms back into its natural free-flowing state.
The Souhegan River has a rich history of breathing life into Merrimack and the surrounding communities. More than 300 years ago, the Penacook Indians chose to call the banks of this wild river home and dubbed it the Souhegan, roughly translated as “river of the plains”. The Souhegan was the backdrop for their hunting and fishing and provided sustenance in the form of its abundant shad, salmon, and alewife fisheries. Early European settlers were also attracted to the rich land and abundant fisheries and soon established Souhegan Village, later known as Merrimack. These settlers erected the area’s first grist mills along the Souhegan, followed closely by other mills, dams, and bridges. The Souhegan became known as a provider of “transportation and food, by powering early mills, by supplying water for irrigation and drinking and by carrying away wastes.”
As the region evolved, the old mill buildings were removed, and the Merrimack Village Dam fell out of use. Now, thanks to a coalition of partners including Pennichuck Water Works, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, NOAA, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and American Rivers, the Merrimack Village Dam is being removed, bringing the life of the river and its history full circle. Once again Atlantic salmon, alewife, and other migratory fish will have access to historic spawning habitat, and we have the hope that one day we will experience a bit of what the Penacook saw as they looked out over the Souhegan during the spring migration.
The removal of the Merrimack Dam will not only restore native fish runs; its removal eliminates a safety hazard and a liability risk for the dam’s owner. With the dam gone, the Souhegan, which is recognized in New England for its whitewater kayaking, canoeing, and recreational swimming, will be a safer place for the local community to enjoy.
So, over the next few month, be sure to check the dam cam often, and next spring head on down to the Souhegan River and glimpse for yourself what nature can do when given the opportunity.