The tour will be at Rivermede Farm. For more information, contact Dave Reckahn of the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225, [email protected], Corrie Miller at the Ausable River Association, [email protected] or Dan Plumley at Adirondack Wild’s regional office in Keene, [email protected]
Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley has been participating in a project along the East Branch of the Ausable River in Keene that represents an exciting partnership among Trout Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ausable River Association, NYS DEC, and Essex County Soil and Water to help restore the ecological integrity of 2500 foot stretch of the river in an effort to reduce erosion and enhance trout habitat through natural techniques.
Dan and other volunteers were given a short course in the Rosgen Method of stream restoration that builds upon an assessment of the entire watershed and its land use history, and analysis of the causes for excessive erosion and deposition. The method is not a cook-book approach, but an integrative process which blends expertise in geomorphology, hydrology, soil science, fisheries science, landscape architecture and more to re-create a natural stream channel which can be resilient even after flooding.
In the case of this section of the East Branch Ausable, a long history of violent floods, upstream erosion, and human attempts to “fix” the river had led to great loss of farmland, an overly wide stream channel, loss of ability to carry sediment, flattening of stream gradient, and degrading of the elegantly spaced riffle-pool sequences and shaded, deep pool habitats favored by trout in the warmer months.
Dr. John Braico, President of Trout Unlimited’s Adirondack Chapter, led the teaching of Rosgen method. Dan and other survey crew members worked under his guidance to determine and locate the river’s “thalweg.” The thalweg defines a river’s deepest channel, the natural direction of any watercourse, and is almost always the line of fastest flow in any river. The data is crucial to designing river restoration projects.
After the survey work, Dr. Braico wrote:
“to express my gratitude to all who pitched in and made it possible to get the surveying & materials inventory completed in 5 days — despite one day of high water & rain! Direct help came from TU, Essex County SWCD, Adirondack Wild & the Ausable River Association. Without that teamwork it would have been near impossible to complete this work by the end of June. Thank you!”
Next, agreements had to be reached with the affected landowners, including the Town of Keene, and Rivermede Farm. Heavy equipment operators were recruited who could work under careful direction to implement stream restoration methods. Plans called for a “soft” approach to stream restoration, using tree roots from a nearby logging operation or ripped out by the flood event, known as root “wads,” a variety of other woody material, live willow cuttings, and sod mats placed on top. In contrast to hardening with rock boulders, this method would utilize readily available natural materials, be faster and much less expensive. Therefore, the technique could be more easily and inexpensively replicated elsewhere in the Ausable drainage.
In the third and fourth week of July, all of the hard planning and surveying work was paying off. Dr. Braico and USFWS’s Carl Schwartz are leading the restoration work under the auspices of the USFWS Partners in Fish and Wildlife Program. Large trees and root wads have been moved into strategic position along the bank to become critical stream restoration structures. River scientists working with skilled equipment operators are creating a carefully measured, bankfull bench along eroding sections of the river. The bench establishes a bankfull stage, flow at which the channel fills the bank and just begins to overflow onto the floodplain. It consists of those tree root wads, logs, branches, brush, and willow cuttings that will grow up through the soil.
The bench narrows the channel, allowing the stream to deepen, and over time the stream will re-develop its natural gradient and dimension. The complex, rough habitats needed by trout and their prey are recreated in the process.
Simultaneous to the building of this bench, Dr. Braico and Carl Schwartz have directed the placement of boulders in strategic locations of the river, each one strategically located to protect each other from scour during high water, to slow the current, and to create more complex stream habitat structure, riffles and pools. Anybody visiting the work site receives explanations from staff eager to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for helping the river re-gain resilience, reconnect with its floodplain, maintain its channel, and provide the habitats required by trout.
The opportunities to recreate these techniques elsewhere are tremendous. Dan writes to Dr. Braico and Carl Schwartz:
“Our diverse coalition, which since last fall that has kept up the pressure on DEC and Governor Cuomo to re-envision stream management and take action for ecologically sound river restoration, so appreciates your good work and our collaboration. Our partners elsewhere will learn of your leadership and growing conservation legacy in our town of Keene. After this project is completed, I hope we will roundtable on the next stage for Johns Brook, Stiles Brook and other Adirondack and Catskill waters in need of management and restoration, taking the long term view.”
For Adirondack Wild’s website, Henrietta Jordan expressed her hopes for the future restoration of Johns Brook, which was channelized, its banks armored following the flooding of August 28, 2011: “I’d like to think that someday, not too long from now, my grandchildren will boulder-hop the stream between shaded, deep green pools filled with brook trout, shrieking with delight as they dip their toes into the clear, cold waters of one of the most beautiful mountain streams in the Adirondacks.”
Photo: Recent work completed at Rivermeade Farm in Keene. Project crews cut willow branches for the top of the bank which will take root, anchoring it and eventually providing riparian habitat. Photo by Ken Rimany.