Updated May 27 at 3:27pm

Building a future from the past

'We hope it will be replicated at other sites around the country and the world.'

For the past several years Christopher J. Fox has been turning the hands of time backward. His mission has been to restore some of South County’s rivers to their pre-Colonial condition in order to improve several fish stocks, as well as the general health of the river. More

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FOCUS: HISTORIC PRESERVATION

Building a future from the past

'We hope it will be replicated at other sites around the country and the world.'

Posted:

For the past several years Christopher J. Fox has been turning the hands of time backward. His mission has been to restore some of South County’s rivers to their pre-Colonial condition in order to improve several fish stocks, as well as the general health of the river.

The executive director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association in Hopkinton has been supervising a seemingly never-ending process of permit applications, hearings and approvals, but never has he regretted taking on the project. “It’s been worth the effort, no doubt about it,” he said.

The work will soon give fish entering Little Narragansett Bay at Westerly the potential to swim as far inland as Wordens Pond and the Great Swamp in South Kingstown, a headwater of part of the watershed, adding access to 10 miles of the river and 1,300 acres of spawning habitat.

Fox’s focus has been on the Pawcatuck River in a stretch bordered by Richmond and Charlestown, in the villages of Shannock and Kenyon, where he has worked to remove the impacts of the dams from Lower Shannock Falls, Upper Shannock Falls – also called the Horseshoe Falls – and at Kenyon Dam. Once all three obstacles are removed, fish migration is expected to increase.

Environmental organizations such as the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program in Narragansett applaud the effort:

“As an anadromous fish run – fish that spend some of their life cycle in fresh water to spawn, such as river herring or shad – when you extend their habitat you extend their ability to reproduce,” said Richard Ribb, NBEP program director. And as those smaller fish increase in population, there is potential to attract larger and commercially desirable fish as well.

The Lower Shannock Falls Dam removal is complete. Three rock weirs for upstream fish passage in the river are also complete, but require minor adjusting this summer. At the same time, Richmond and the East Greenwich-based Community Development Consortium will be completing a park on the site, a 0.6 acre riverfront kayaking and canoeing destination.

Ribb explained that there about 600 dams in the state and the trend of restoring rivers to their pre-manmade state is growing. A plan to remove a dam or construct fish ladders has been drafted for the Ten Mile River in East Providence. The project will provide fish passage over the three most downstream dams on the river: Omega Pond Dam, Hunt’s Mill Dam and Turner Reservoir Dam. The city joined a partnership to restore herring and American shad to the river, which the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife will stock. It is estimated that the restored river will support a run of nearly a quarter-million fish per year.

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