Plymouth Massachusetts Thankful As Coalition Restores River Used by Pilgrims

town brook plymouth massachusetts photo

Town Brook, at the Plymco dam site in Plymouth MA, USA. Image credit:all photos in this post are by Brian Graber of American Rivers, and used with permission.

Odds are that you've heard the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Maybe you'll even tell it around the table this Thanksgiving. But do you know why they landed where they did?

This guest post by Rebecca Wodder, President, American Rivers, is in tribute to Thanksgiving.Water.

More specifically, a spring-fed stream that the Pilgrims called Town Brook. Town Brook was a fresh water source for the Pilgrims and a marsh at the outlet of the brook provided protection for their boats. Each spring, bounties of herring swamp up the book. The Pilgrims used the herring to fertilize their corn fields, a trick taught to them by the Native Americans.

But like many regions in America, the towns surrounding Plymouth became industrialized, and the small, mile and a half long Town Brook was dammed in six locations. At the time, the dams helped provide power to the mills, but they also led to the eventual decline of the herring that were critical to the Pilgrims' sustenance. To sustain the population, state staff have had to capture and transport the herring around the dams to their upstream spawning area.

town brook plymouth open flowing stretch

Free-flowing stretch of Town Brook.

400 years is a long time, and Town Brook has been industrialized and dammed like so many other waterways throughout the country. However, the dams on Town Brook haven't powered mills in decades. In a bold move, the town of Plymouth is working with a group of partners, including American Rivers, the NOAA Restoration Center, and the state's Division of Ecological Restoration, to remove dams and track the return of the brook's herring. The goal is to restore the brook, and its vital fish runs, back to the health and vitality it had in 1620.

One of Town Brook's dams (the Billington Street dam) was removed in 2002 and another (the Water Street Weir) was partially removed in 2005. The project team is currently working to pull together funding to remove two more (the Off Billington Street Dam and the Plymco Dam) in summer 2011.

It's not often that we get to go back or even want to, but some things don't change. It's been nearly four hundred years since the Pilgrims first landed in Plymouth, and their needs then were not very different from ours today. Removing dams from Town Brook helps restore the pure water and ample fish run the Pilgrims came upon at Plymouth, something we hope will last longer than another 400 years.

Earlier posts by American Rivers.
Strengthening The Resiliency Of Communities In The Face Of Global Warming: Lessons From The Pacific Northwest.
America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers Of 2009
Biggest Dam Removal Project In History Will Restore Health of Klamath River