FARMINGTON – After an extensive process spanning the last seven years, the Town of Farmington and dozens of local, state, and federal partners celebrated the redesigned Walton’s Mill Park and the removal of the Walton’s Mill dam in a special event Friday morning.
Project Manager Maranda Nemeth said that several years ago, endangered Atlantic Salmon were documented below the Walton’s Mill Dam on Temple Stream, a headwater stream that feeds into the Sandy River. Due to the federal regulations for the protection of these fish, the Town of Farmington was notified of the fish and that a solution for salmon migration would need to be developed.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation helped conduct a feasibility study to assess the options available for the town, and in November 2018, the town voted to remove the dam, with 2031 votes in favor of removing the dam and 1195 opposed. The yes/no question allowed the town to enter into an agreement with the ASF to remove the dam on the Temple Stream. Built around 1820, the dam was flagged as a barrier in the migration route of the endangered Atlantic salmon by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2009. The project’s total cost was $2.1 million, paid for through various state, federal, and private sources.
The removal of the dam opened more than 50 miles of stream habitat in the Temple Stream watershed, reconnecting this habitat to the Sandy River.
In addition to removing the dam, two culverts upstream were replaced to provide better access for salmon and to improve the infrastructure. The park, which was established by the town of Farmington in 1980, was redesigned with improved parking, a pavilion, modern washroom, and children’s play area. The play area includes an outdoor musical playground, which was funded by the Farmington Rotary Club.
John Burrows, Executive Director of U.S. Operations, Atlantic Salmon Federation, spoke to the gathering consisting of Farmington community members and local, state, and federal partners.
“The partnership and collaboration on this project was really fantastic,” Burrows said. He recognized the number of partners, with a special nod to the greater Farmington community, the University of Maine at Farmington, Tom Holt with Farmington Water District, Phil Hutchins with the Farmington Public Works Department, retired town manager Richard Davis, Matt Foster of the Farmington Parks and Recreation Department, the Farmington Select Board, and the committee of Farmington residents who helped with the design and development of the park.
The project was a classic example of a public-private partnership, Stephan Bunker said, noting that the project was completed without Farmington taxpayer funds. Bunker is the vice chair of the Farmington Select Board and spoke on behalf of the town, saying that Farmington’s outdoor attractions are part of what makes the town so special.
“This is an added gold star on Farmington’s name,” Bunker said.
Casey Clarke, with the Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Bureau of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, shared a bit of bad news: 95% of Atlantic salmon habitat in Maine is blocked by dams or other impediments. He said the bad news ends there as they celebrate reducing the barriers for this endangered species by removing the dam. Temple Stream makes up 10% of all the salmon habitat in the entire Sandy River watershed, which stretches as far north as Madrid Township and Rangeley.
Clarke said that Temple Stream is a high quality habitat and they are already seeing a high emergence of ‘fry’, young salmon, with high survival rates. The stream is also holding cooler temperatures, making it a critical habitat for salmon.
John F. Kocik, Ph.D. is the Chief of the Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Research NEFSC, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Department of Commerce. Dr. Kocik said that for the fish that were ‘knocking on the door’ of the Walton Mill Dam, the last 28 miles of their journey just got a lot easier.
The last presenter of the events, Chris Meaney, Project Leader with the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that the Walton Mill Park project was a perfect example of partnership between a multitude of agencies and organizations.
Meaney added that this is the 50th year of the Endangered Species Act, which protects threatened and endangered species in the U.S. While the project was largely focused on improving access for Atlantic salmon, the work will benefit other native species such as eel, turtles, numerous species of birds, brook trout, and others.
“Congrats on a job well done,” Meaney said. “You’ve earned it.”
The Atlantic Salmon Federation will continue to monitor the location for the next five years, ensuring that the new plants grow well, tracking and managing any invasive species that may come into the wetlands, and maintaining the health of the park.
Jane Woodman, who served on the town’s committee for the Walton Mill Park project, looked out over the stream. “As you’re standing here, you’re looking at the ledges that the settlers saw as a source of water power, and they built the mills here.” Woodman said. “Prior to this, they had to travel to Winthrop to the mills.”
Walton Mill, the dam, and the pond are essential parts of Farmington’s history. Nemeth said that a lot of the park’s design commemorates the history of the dam and mill, with various artifacts displayed throughout the park. At the new overlook above the stream, the metal structure from the mill’s waterwheel stands on end like a sculpture. A kiosk at the overlook will be the site of an informational sign focused on the history and ecology of Walton’s Mill Park and Temple Stream, although that project is still in development.
Project Partners and Funders:
The members of the Town of Farmington including the Parks and Recreation Department, Public Works Department, Historical Society, Conservation Commission, and the dedicated project committee.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, NOAA Restoration Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Natural Resources Conservation Program, The Nature Conservancy in Maine, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, Cascade Foundation, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, The Betterment Fund, Sarah DeCoizart Trust, Enbridge, Inc., Trout and Salmon Foundation, & Fisher Foundation.
The contract for construction of the Walton’s Mill Park Project was awarded to H.E. Callahan, an Auburn-based firm, along with subcontracts to E.L. Vining, Adrenaline Electric, and Lakeside Landscape. The lead project engineer is Acadia Civil Works, and the lead landscape architect is David Maynes Studios. Technical design expertise and consulting is also provided by Northeast Archaeology Research Center, Wright-Pierce, Casco Bay Engineering, Trillium Engineering Group, and Field Geology Services. The construction and design team are all based in Maine.