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Agencies Celebrate Riverbank Restoration at Historic Site in Charlestown, NH

Release Date: 11/14/2003
Contact Information: Adair Mulligan, Communications Director, Connecticut River Joint Commissions (603-795-2104

Charlestown, NH – Biologists, archeologists, soil scientists, engineers and construction workers gathered today with officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and Connecticut River Joint Commissions to dedicate the completion of a 850-foot-long riverbank restoration project at an historic site on the Connecticut River.

The project, funded by EPA, NOAA and several other organizations, will help preserve a severely eroding riverbank at one of New Hampshire's most significant archeological sites – at a recreation of an historic fort from the French and Indian War era known as Fort at No. 4. The project will also improve water quality and wildlife habitat along the river.

"The riverbank restoration work at the fort site is an excellent example of river conservation and stewardship," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "In addition to improving water quality and wildlife habitat, this project will protect important cultural resources and boost awareness and education about endangered Dwarf Wedgemussels. I want to commend the Connecticut River Joint Commissions for its outstanding work in implementing key actions of its Corridor Management Plan as well as in the American Heritage Rivers Initiative."

Initiated by the Connecticut River Joint Commissions (CRJC) as part of its Sustainable Riverbanks project, the three-year-long project involved local, state, and federal agencies in addition to the Fort staff and board of trustees. The riverbank had been scoured and eroded by ice and water and boat wakes from power boats also contributed to bank instability. The site is also influenced by water level fluctuations in the impoundment behind Bellows Falls Dam. Archeological resources, which had been the subject of a dig sponsored by CRJC a few years earlier, had been eroding into the river.

When the Connecticut River Joint Commissions surveyed all 1,300 NH and VT riverfront landowners in 1991, the number one issue on the landowners' minds was bank erosion. Riverbank erosion is one of the most prevalent and misunderstood problems facing the Connecticut River and its tributaries. In many cases it is the result of the river's natural tendency to scour and deposit sediments as it flows through the landscape. Seasonal flooding and the abrasion of ice as it breaks up in the spring chew at the river's banks on certain reaches, particularly in dam impoundments. The fluctuation of water behind peak generating hydroelectric dams and the wakes from passing power boats also take their toll of riverbank soils.

As part of the American Heritage River Initiative, the CRJC worked with the Connecticut River Conservation District Coalition to identify erosion sites on the river like this one and to develop criteria for prioritizing sites in each county for restoration. The CRJC recruited a technical team of professionals from a variety of agencies and disciplines to review the priorities, and in 2001, selected three top candidate sites for restoration.

The Fort site was the third project of three now completed, the other two being the Birch Meadow Farm in Fairlee, VT, where an innovative tree revetment and agricultural buffer were installed in 2002, and the Hook Farm in Brunswick, VT, where a large new buffer and land contouring stabilized a flood chute in a reach of the river known for its high quality brook trout habitat.

The technical team selected the Fort as an excellent prospect for a number of reasons. It included carefully documented archeological resources, offered excellent opportunities to educate the public about the river, and is under the care of a cooperative and interested landowner.

CRJC called upon the expertise of a Connecticut engineering firm, Milone and MacBroom, to design the project for maximum protection of the sensitive archeological site, with minimum loss of wildlife habitat. Another important goal was to restore the natural appearance of the riverbank, particularly vegetation which had been lost over the years.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Fort board members and local volunteers installed a riparian buffer of 800 plants, to give better anchor to the soil and also provide wildlife habitat. The buffer is composed of native trees and shrubs which colonists would have found naturally growing at this site, and which they would have used for food, craft, or building supplies.

An unexpected challenge came with the discovery of a federally endangered mussel just offshore. Seeking to do no harm, the Commissions hired an aquatic biologist to first census and then tag and relocate out of harm's way all mussels found in the project area. This work was done by Ethan Nedeau of BioDRAWversity in Amherst, MA, under the supervision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Twenty mussels were discovered and moved to a safe location. They have been brought ‘home' to the waters adjacent to the Fort's riverbank now that work is complete.

"Rather than looking at this small animal as an expensive annoyance," said CRJC Executive Director Sharon Francis, "the River Commissions view the endangered mussel's presence as a source of pride and a valuable resource to protect."

The New Hampshire State Archeologist also helped guide the project's preservation of archeological features, which had been the subject of investigations by archeologist Wesley Stinson and others for a number of years.

The stabilized riverbank has apparently also assisted the Fort in interpreting events that took place here during the French and Indian War. "I was down there the other day, attacking the Fort," reported John Soule, the Fort's Program Manager, who is often seen there dressed in the swashbuckling garb of a French general. It's really made a difference for the French Army. Thanks very much."

The project was funded with $70,000 from the EPA and $87,400 from NOAA. An additional $11,000 was used from NRCS's Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program for riparian buffer plants and removal of invasive exotics on the riverbank like Asiatic honeysuckle. The contractor, Charlestown's St. Pierre, Inc., donated $6,500 worth of services. Hal Wilkins of Ramsey & McLaren in Westminster, Vermont, also donated his time as project field coordinator. CRJC has contributed substantial staff time in planning and coordinating the project. USGen New England was able to manage Bellows Falls Dam to allow construction to proceed at the lowest possible water levels.

Local volunteers have also participated. This summer, they planted dozens of trees and shrubs on the top of the bank, led by Chris Hill, a member of the Fort's board of trustees and a skilled horticulturalist, and Wendy Ward of the NRCS.

For more information on erosion, see; for more on riparian buffers, see The Commissions emphasize that erosion is a natural, ongoing process, and can never be eliminated, but good conservation stewardship can minimize its harmful effects and loss of property. Stewardship means maintaining a good riparian buffer of trees and shrubs, and it means operating recreational boats slowly near shore so their wakes don't attack the riverbanks.