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Waltons Mill Dam removal project moves forward

With dam removal, the site may become one of the places in Maine where people can view Atlantic salmon leaping upstream.

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ASF's Maranda Nemeth stands beside the Walton's Mill Dam that is scheduled for removal this year. Photo Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

FARMINGTON — Water letdown has begun at the Walton’s Mill Dam site in preparation for the dam’s removal.

The dam removal is part of a larger project in partnership with the Atlantic Salmon Federation approved by voters in November 2018. In addition to the dam removal and park improvements, the project includes replacing two road-stream crossings along Clover Mill Road.

This summer, the impoundment will be partially drawn down to complete archeological studies and start vegetation stabilization of streambanks. The dam and associated concrete buttress, gates, and former mill foundation will be removed in controlled sequence using best management practices in 2022.

One road-stream crossing was replaced last year, the other will be done this year. The almost $3 million investment in construction and implementation is at no cost to the Town of Farmington.

Last fall, design plans were shared with the Board of Selectmen.

A walk through of the park with Maranda Nemeth Friday afternoon, May 21, provided additional information on park improvements planned for the next year and expectations beyond completion in 2022. Nemeth is project manager for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The entrance to the park will be improved, elevating the parking area but not changing the footprint, she said. Four parallel parking spaces will be added along Route 43 with a walkway to the park with 12 standard parking spaces plus one ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) spot in the current parking area, she noted.

“We’ll be raising the entrance, repurposing all the boulders,” Nemeth said. “There’ll be a new entry sign and a chain gate for the town to block it off whenever they need to do that. There will be a rusted out look to the sign which will be a large granite boulder with letters in steel across it.”

Entering the park the slope will be terraced with vegetation and a wooden kiosk with information will be added.

Current fencing will be removed and replaced with landscaping to enclose and protect the area.

“We’re using all natural species, shrubs and trees,” Nemeth said. “There will be really significant landscaping going in.” Dogwood, winterberry, blue flag iris, maples and white spruce are to be used with low bush blueberries planted throughout the site, she noted.

Drainage will be improved by making a green infrastructure swale to collect water coming off the parking lot. Pavement will be removed and a series of stone stairs will provide streamside access.

“The bank will be restored, the area re-graded and the concrete wall removed,” Nemeth said. “We’ll be repurposing the stones from the dam for landscaping. The water wheel will be relocated, honoring the history.”

The ledge underneath the dam will not be manipulated.

“It might be one of the only places in Maine where people can view an Atlantic salmon leaping upstream,” Nemeth said. “They’re called leapers, they push themselves right out of the water.

“By removing the dam, more than 52 miles of stream will be restored back to the Sandy River,” she noted. “The Department of Marine Resources has already started recovering Atlantic salmon, know it’s productive for brown trout and other native species.”

The one-mile stretch of Temple Stream is pretty low-lying, the impoundment is stagnant, pretty monotonous, Nemeth said. She expects several complex wetlands to emerge once the dam is removed.

Increasing the diversity of plants will lead to more diverse habitat that threatened species such as wood turtles can’t utilize now, she said.

“There certainly will be a change,” Nemeth noted. “A warm water pond will become a free-flowing cold water stream in its restored state. It will bring in more diverse native species, open up the river. Water quality improves, invertebrates settle in. Fresh water mussels will be able to move more freely up and down the river.”

The overlook will be stabilized as it is deteriorating, Nemeth said. It’s important to the town people can look out, she added.

Lighted pathways will be added for safety to the area beyond the overlook. Where the large grassy area is, there will be an ADA accessible bathroom, historical interpretation and observation area. A pavilion will feature timber platforms laid like a deck. The chain link fence will be replaced with a more contemporary fence to go with the historical-interpretation area. The water wheel, now in the stream, will be moved to this area.

“There will be wooden benches for people to sit, enjoy,” Nemeth said. “There will be a second kiosk for historical information, details of what the mill made, when, and why it’s important to Farmington and the Sandy River. People will be able to look out onto the river. Where the area opens up again is where the pavilion will be. It will have completely ADA accessible picnic tables with a wooden façade representative of the mill, tie into the history.

“It will be a place for folks to come for special events,” she continued. “The town expects to see greater use of the park with all of these added amenities.”

The pavilion will be lighted and the open space will be repurposed to create a play space for families to enjoy. Natural materials will be used such as a log play structure, willow huts and earth mounds for kids to roam through and explore.

“That will be a unique feature,” Nemeth said. “All to improve the park and make it more of a destination for Farmington to have along Temple Stream. It is the town’s only waterfront park so it’s a special spot.”

A lot of partners came together, raised many grant funds to support this work and invest in the future of Farmington, Nemeth said. Project partners include the Town of Farmington, Atlantic Salmon Federation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Natural Areas Program, and Land and Water Conservation Fund. Funding support is also provided by Trout & Salmon Foundation, Fisher Foundation, Cascade Foundation, and several other private foundations. Acadia Civil Works is the lead engineer, Wright-Pierce is doing the architectural and electrical engineering with Casco Bay Engineering providing structural design, Nemeth said.

“This is such an important project because Temple Stream is a tributary to the Sandy River in the Kennebec River watershed,” she noted. “It’s one of the most important streams for Atlantic salmon. For those of us involved in the Kennebec River watershed and restoring Atlantic salmon, we’re very excited about it.”

In a letter of support for the project Town Manager Richard Davis wrote, “The replacement of culverts on Clover Mill Road and Cummings Hill have provided huge benefits for fish populations and wildlife. They have also contributed to a much-improved travel way for motorists. Significantly, these projects have been completed at no cost to the Town.”

“The re-design of the portion of the park immediately adjacent to the dam will also make the entire site much safer and more accessible for community members,” he continued. “The physical improvements planned for the site, plus the addition of new interpretive displays and the exhibition of mill and dam artifacts on site, will likely increase public use and recreation at the site and in the newly restored portion of Temple Stream. These improvements are also being made at no cost to the taxpayers of Farmington. Again, the Town is extremely grateful for the support of the Atlantic Salmon Federation and its partners.”

“We took this wider approach to remove the dam, completely improve and overhaul the park with new amenities, stabilize these areas and then replace the road-stream crossings to improve the road,” Nemeth said. “We’re working with Public Works to make sure they’re not going to flood anymore.” There is also an historical preservation aspect to the project, she noted.

Work is expected to be completed in 2022. There is $20,000 going to the town for a maintenance fund to have the capacity to continue stewarding the site, Nemeth said. The Atlantic Salmon Federation will monitor the site for five years, making sure native species return and stabilize, she noted.

“This big project is improving the river and park, preserving history more thoughtfully and thinking ahead for the future,” Nemeth said.